Labor’s domestic violence leave to be rorted, bosses say

The Australian, December 6, 2017

Employers have slammed Bill Shorten’s promise to legislate 10 days’ paid domestic violence leave, warning workers will rort the entitlement and demanding taxpayers fund it.

ACTU president Ged Kearney demanded the Coalition match Labor’s commitment, asking “how many more women have to die before Malcolm Turnbull steps up”.

Council of Small Business Australia chief executive Peter Strong said paid domestic violence leave should be capped at five days annually and administered by the federal government through Centrelink.

Mr Strong said if the government did not pick up the bill, small businesses should be exempt from having to pay the entitlement, claiming it was rife for rorting, particularly by young workers.

“The cost to small business would be very high,’’ he said. ­“Apprentice hairdressers are likely to come in when their mates are going down the coast and say ‘my dad beat me up last night’. With paid leave, there is a reason to make things up, and … that will happen, they will try it on.”

Employment Minister Michaelia Cash refused to match Labor’s pledge, hitting back at Ms Kearney’s criticism. “These comments are disrespectful to the victims of domestic violence, this is an issue that should be above politics,’’ her spokesman said.

The government and employers pointed to the Fair Work Commission’s rejection this year of the ACTU claim for 10 days’ paid domestic violence leave. The commission is currently finalising a clause for unpaid domestic violence leave to be inserted into awards.

“The government encourages all employers to support their employees experiencing family violence,’’ Senator Cash’s spokesman said. “The commission is currently considering the issue of whether new family violence leave entitlements should be included in awards. The government respects the independence of the FWC and will not pre-empt its decision.”

Analysis by the Australia Institute’s Centre for Future Work found just 1.5 per cent of female employees, and about 0.3 per cent of male employees, were likely to access paid domestic violence leave annually.

It found incremental wage payouts associated with the universal extension of a 10-day paid domestic violence leave policy would be “modest”, costing $80 million to $120m a year, equivalent to 0.02 per cent of existing payrolls.

Australian Industry Group chief executive Innes Willox said the commission, in its decision rejecting the ACTU claim, accepted the provision of paid domestic ­violence leave would increase costs for employers although there was a lack of data about costs.

“Domestic violence is a very important community problem that is abhorrent and cannot be tolerated in any form,’’ he said. “However, employers have different capacities to provide support to employees who experience domestic violence. While many large employers have flexible policies to assist affected employees, ‘one size fits all’ would be extremely problematic for many businesses, especially small ones.”

Opposition workplace relations spokesman Brendan O’Connor said “whatever costs are borne by business, they will be offset by reducing turnover and absenteeism”.

Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief executive James Pearson said while domestic violence was not to be tolerated, many small businesses could not afford the measures.

“We know from experience businesses deal sensitively and compassionately with domestic violence issues, often voluntarily granting time off work, access to leave and other arrangements,’’ he said.