Union Matters: Domestic Violence Leave

On this week’s podcast, we speak with NSGEU Employee Relations Officer Gina Boyd about the issue of domestic violence leave in Nova Scotia.

This spring, the provincial government introduced legislation that includes a provision for up to ten intermittent days of unpaid leave to allow victims of domestic abuse to seek out services and supports. However, in other countries, like New Zealand and the Philippines, and even other parts of Canada, domestic violence survivors are granted paid days off. Those paid days off can make a big difference to people living in abusive situations.

So while Nova Scotia’s proposed new legislation is a step in the right direction, it doesn’t go far enough for the women and workers of our province:

“This is predominantly a women’s issue: there are some men that are affected, but the largest portion, 91 per cent, are women,” Boyd says.

As a woman, I’m quite taken back by the government’s decision not to pay this intermittent leave, especially when there is paid leave in other provinces. I don’t believe that the workers of Nova Scotia or the women of Nova Scotia should be considered any less important or their safety needs should be any less significant than a woman from any other province in Canada.

Show your support for this campaign by visiting http://nslabour.ca/domestic-violence/

Please let us know what other issues you’d like us to tackle on upcoming shows! You can send your ideas and feedback to communications@nsgeu.ca.

Thanks, and happy listening!


See below for a full transcript of this week’s podcast:

Hello and welcome to this week’s episode of the Union Matters, NSGEU’s weekly podcasts. I’m your host Holly Fraughton and I’m joined here today by Gina Boyd, who is an employee relations officer for the union. Welcome, Gina


GB Thank you very much for having me, Holly.


HF My pleasure. So Gina, can you tell me a little bit about what exactly an employee relations officer does, what you do here at the union?


GB An employee relations officer normally helps to service the collector agreement for different assigned locals as well as they’re involved in the negotiation of collective agreements. They work with locals on labour management committees and generally serve the membership in promoting their union rights.


HF Okay, excellent. So that’s your day-to-day work, that’s what you do normally. You are actually also involved in a committee right now. Can you tell me a little bit about the work you’re doing through this — it’s a working group on domestic violence?


GB The members of NSGEU as well as several other unions have submitted resolutions to their conventions over the last decade wanting improvements and wanting things done with respect to the issue of domestic violence. So, the working group that I’m currently working with is through the Federation of Labour, who represents all the unions in Nova Scotia and we’re working together to promote and to push for legislative rights for people who suffer from domestic violence.


HF Can you tell me a little bit though what exactly domestic violence leave is? What the concept is this? I know it’s in other countries like New Zealand and the Philippines have national legislation on this and here in Canada we have Manitoba and Ontario already have five days of paid leave, so it’s kind of piecemeal throughout the country. But what exactly is the concept of domestic violence leave?


GB The concept is that there is two different type of leave provisions within a domestic violence leave scenario. So the days that you talk about that are paid in other provinces, here we’re trying to get ten days of intermittent leave. Intermittent means that you can use that leave by way of a couple of hours, half a day, a full day, and those leave provisions we are hoping and we are lobbying to have as paid leaves days. There’s also a secondary portion to that leave and most of the provinces have already achieved this type of leave and that ranges from ten weeks to fifteen weeks and so that leave period would allow for people to deal with a significant medical harm: psychological harm to themselves and to their children, relocation, whatever therapies may be required, and it would be a leave that doesn’t have a pay provision, but allows for your job to be maintained and held for you until such time as you’re ready to come back to work.


HF Okay, so it protects your position


GB It protects your position, yes.


HF So just the basic premise behind domestic violence leave though, is that if you are a victim of domestic violence, there would be some sort of provision that would allow you to take time to get yourself safely out of an abusive situation.


GB Not necessarily. It may be on the premise that you need to be able to take some time to a) identify if your situation is a situation of intimate partner violence, and b) also to take steps to be able to safely secure your home as well as your family or your children. That doesn’t always necessarily mean that you’re going to leave, but it means that you’re going to take the step to be able to make sure that you’re safe. The other thing with respect to principle I think is really important for people to consider is we often, in the union movement, talk about occupational health and safety issues and an injury to one being an injury to all, and we need to look at domestic violence cases equally, by way of saying an injury to one in a home that’s not safe is an injury tall as well. Therefore we need to have provisions to people to assist our members in that area.


HF That makes total sense. Do you have any idea what the statistics are on domestic violence in Nova Scotia?


GB We did a PAN survey across Canada through the CLC, which indicated that ten times more people have identified that they’ve been victims of domestic violence than what has been reported to police within their jurisdiction. So it’s very under-reported.


HF So how did you get involved in the working group?


GB So because I’ve spent some time in my job as an employee relations officer trying to negotiate language for unpaid and paid leave, as well as for policies, I was invited to attend this group, that’s inclusive of other unions as well as our Federation of Labour President Danny Cavanagh, and with that working group we wrote a labour policy paper on what union’s position is on domestic violence and what is requires moving forward for workers. So the labor movement’s overall position has four very distinct, important points and the important points are that:


  1. We want at an intermittent paid leave provision of ten days. We’ve been lobbying government to try to get those paid intermittent days.


  1. We have domestic violence legislation that hasn’t come into effect yet under our labor standards code, but we want to make changes to the Occupational Health and Safety Act to be able to include violence risk assessment for domestic violence within the workplace, equally as we would a violent assessment for any other type of concern that be in the workplace for violence.


  1. We want changes to the Tenancy Board Act so that if someone is suffering from domestic violence they can get out of their lease and leave and get their family to safety. Currently there is some provisions allowing you to be able to leave, but comes at a financial penalty. So we’re trying to get the financial penalty removed from that.


  1. We’re looking under that Occupational Health and Safety Act to get provisions that would require the employer to have a policy in the workplace, so that again, we can get those resources to employees upon hire and available to them equal to how, if you’re hurt at work, everyone in the workplace knows you have to fill out a WCB form if you’re covered by WCB and it’s made available to you. We want the resources to be that instant and that quick to be able to get to our members.


HF That sounds pretty reasonable. So it’s my understanding that the legislation was actually introduced in the spring, is that right?


GB That’s correct.


HF And so it hasn’t been passed yet.


GB It hasn’t received Royal Assent yet, which means that we have the opportunity to be able to change government’s mind on the ten intermittent days. Currently in the legislation they’re calling for them to unpaid and our concern is a union movement is an employee who’s in a domestic violence situation, if they go home without their paycheck or without a portion of their paycheck it’s going to escalate the violence. Whereas if we have a paid provision in place it allows for the employee to be able to properly prepare and do the things she needs to do to make her situation safe.


HF That makes total sense. It sounds like the position of the working group is really that, while the legislation is a step in the right direction, it doesn’t quite go far enough.


GB That’s correct. This is predominantly a women’s issue. There are some men that are affected, but the largest portion — 91% are women. As a woman, I’m quite taken aback by the government’s decision not to pay this intermittent leave, especially when there is paid days in other provinces. I don’t believe that the workers of Nova Scotia or the women of Nova Scotia should be considered any less important, or their safety needs to be any less significant, than a woman from another province in Canada.


HF Hear, here! It’s a little bit disappointing, I suppose then that our proposed legislation doesn’t quite stack up to domestic violence leave provisions in the rest of the country. How can people show their support for making these intermittent days paid? What can they do to show their support?


GB On the website for the Federation of Labour, their website address is http://nslabour.ca/. You click on the campaign button and choose domestic violence [from the drop down menu] (http://nslabour.ca/domestic-violence/). There is a petition letter there that will go to your MLA or someone in government and there’s also some free space that’s available for people to type in their own experience, their own thoughts on the matter. We’re asking for folks, especially within the labour movement, to go on to that website and click that letter and get those letters sent off. The more pressure that we as a union put on government right now, the better chances we are to be successful in getting those intermittent days paid.


HF Excellent. From a personal standpoint what have you learned from being in this working group and hearing from people have lived experience with domestic violence and trying to navigate that situation in the workplace.


GB My biggest surprise has to be the employers. The employers, there would be a consideration of there people would think “Oh, employers don’t want to do something.” But, indeed they do want to do something. They just don’t know how. There is a significant need for good policy regardless of whether there’s paid leave or unpaid leave of unions working with employers making good policy, making resource available. It’s a betterment for everyone. I really feel that the employers want a solution to this issue. They don’t want to be put in a position where they’re unclear what to do and how to deal with it. I think that’s been the biggest surprise of all. A pleasant surprise. And hopefully, like I say, after ten to fifteen years of constant resolutions to a number of unions around wanting advancements in this area, wanting opportunity and availability to care for our members and make sure that they are safe at home and safe at work. Hopefully this year we’ve really made some good progress and we’re on our way to brining it out of the darkness and into the light, for sure.


HF Thanks a lot, Gina. It sounds like you guys have done a lot of really important work. Okay, so just to remind people if they would like to show their support for making sure that Nova Scotia’s legislation includes paid leave for victims of domestic violence, you can visit http://nslabour.ca/ and click the domestic violence tab under campaigns. Gina thank you so much for taking the time to meet with us here today. We’ll let you get back to your day. To our listeners, thank you so much for tuning into our Union Matters Podcast. We hope you liked it. Please don’t forget to subscribe. We’re also in Facebook and Twitter at NSGEU. Have a good one!

See below for a full transcript of this week’s podcast:


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