Tánaiste responding to questioning from Sinn Féin TD Louise O'Reilly this morning.

Tánaiste rejects Ibec suggestion that 'proof' would be required for domestic abuse paid leave

‘What is a victim supposed to do? Come in with their black eye?’ said TD Louise O’Reilly.

THE TÁNAISTE HAS rejected suggestions that proof of abuse would be included in a bill providing paid leave for victims of domestic violence.

Last month, the government rubber-stamped the publication of the Work Life Balance Bill.

It will bring in a range of measures to improve family-friendly work practices and support women in the workforce, including introducing paid leave for domestic violence victims.

Once the legislation is enacted, those who are suffering or at risk of domestic violence will be entitled to five days of paid leave per year.

However, during a Joint Committee on Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Sinn Féin TD Louis O’Reilly noted an “objection by the employers’ group Ibec to the introduction of paid leave for victims and survivors of domestic abuse”.

Deputy O’Reilly said the submission from Ibec in relation to the bill “referenced the need to require proof” of domestic abuse.

She added: “What is a victim supposed to do? Come in with their black eye? How do you prove coercive control?”

Deputy O’Reilly also noted that the “advocacy groups in this area couldn’t be clearer about the issue of proof”.

In response, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said that the legislation is currently being worked on by Children’s Minister Roderic O’Gorman.

And while Varadkar noted that “there will have to be some sort of mechanism as there is for any form of leave,” he added: “I don’t see how evidential proof could be a requirement of the legislation. I think that would make it almost unworkable.”

Varadkar also said: “I don’t really see how you could produce proof of abuse or coercive control in particular, which is quite hard to prove.”

Deputy O’Reilly welcomed Varadkar’s comments said she couldn’t “conceive of a person that would walk into their employer and claim that (domestic violence) just to get some time off”.

She also expressed hope that the five days of paid leave per year can be extended to ten days.

Speaking to RTÉ, Ibec’s Executive Director of Public Relations Maeve McElwee said: “This isn’t a matter for an employer to decide what evidence would satisfy an employer under a statutory obligation.

“The government will determine what the statutory proof will be and what we will be obliged to accept.”

“So we’re asking government to tell us what are our respective obligations.”

She added: “There are really significant challenges.

“We have to know and we have to be really clear, how do we manage those situations? What is the extent of our responsibility? What if the alleged perpetrator is also an employee?

“I think it’s really important to see our submission in the broad context of the Ibec submission.”

Women’s Aid has said that it is very disappointed to read media reports relating to Ibec’s apparent position on the matter, saying it appears “mean spirited, distrustful and defensive”.

CEO Sarah Benson said the charity has long advocated for the introduction of paid Domestic Violence Leave in Ireland as a vital support for survivors.

“Women’s Aid believes that paid Domestic Violence Leave, as part of a comprehensive package of workplace measures, can play an important role is supporting abused women to remain in employment and therefore expanding their agency, safety and choices,” Benson said.

Women living with or escaping from domestic abuse may have a number of urgent and important matters to attend to related to the abuse they experience.These include: attending and preparing for a number of criminal and civil legal proceedings, counselling for themselves or their children, looking for a new home, relocating, changing children’s school, visiting specialist domestic violence services.

“It may not be possible to attend to these matters outside of working hours because the services are not available or because the woman may need to hide her activities from the abuser. Women do not have a choice of time for appointments with specialist support organisations, solicitors or for court proceedings,” she said.

“In order to attend to these matters many survivors currently have to take Annual Leave or other forms of leave. This is grossly unfair.”

SIPTU has also criticised the submission from Ibec.

Deputy General Secretary Ethel Buckley said: “I was sick to my stomach to read this morning that IBEC believe there would be ‘potential abuse’ of paid leave for the victims of domestic violence.

“This attitude towards people at a hugely vulnerable and potentially volatile time in their lives is deeply insulting and so out of touch with reality,” she said.

“Well hear us loud and clear IBEC. SIPTU stands with the victims of domestic violence. We trust these victims. We believe the workplace should be a safe space, a place where the stigma and the shame can be left at the door. Financial independence from abusers is the key to escaping and building a better life. Workers should not need to prove abuse to an employer.”

Equality Minister O’Gorman told reporters today that the paid leave for domestic violence is a recognition that they might need to take time off to engage with legal counsel or medical teams.

He said it is an “appropriate approach to take”. The minister said such a provision is “very new” as Ireland will be one of the first EU countries to introduce it. 

It will be reviewed after two years, he added. 

The minister acknowledged that the introduction of paid domestic violence leave “will require an element of trust between employees and employers”. 

“We should move away from the approach where we are demanding evidence from employees,” he said.  

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