Making Domestic Violence A Trade Union Issue
There is no statutory offence of domestic violence and the term is often used generally to describe an ongoing pattern of behaviour used by a person to control another with whom they have or have had a close or intimate relationship. Domestic violence needs to be recognised as the brutal and violent behaviour it is. This violent behaviour is often accompanied by other controlling behaviour and often entails abuse that is emotional, physical, mental or sexual or a combination of these.
Although it is predominantly women who experience domestic violence it should be recognised that men also experience domestic violence and that this type of violent behaviour occurs in same-sex as well as heterosexual relationships. It should also be recognised that domestic violence has devastating effects upon the lives of those involved including children and young people. The 2001 British Crime Survey reports that 20% of all violent crimes reported last year were of a domestic nature and that victims of this violence are likely to be attacked and abused repeatedly.
The campaign against domestic violence has been ongoing for many years and it has been twenty eight years since Erin Pizzey documented her struggle to open and keep open a refuge for women escaping domestic violence. ‘Scream Quietly Or The Neighbours Will Hear’ (1976) was a book that provoked a storm of national publicity and concern and one that revealed the lack of help and support available to those experiencing violent behaviour from the law, NHS and other statutory and voluntary agencies. Thanks to the efforts of campaigners like Zero Tolerance and Women’s Aid, domestic violence is clearly back on the political agenda with a new campaign launched recently that aims to improve support for those experiencing violence.
So why should domestic violence be a trade union issue? Quite simply, domestic violence can have a huge impact on the working lives of those it affects. Performance, time keeping, punctuality and ability can all be affected, and for some the workplace may represent the only ‘safe’ environment they have. Ten years ago, NALGO called for trade unions to take domestic violence on board as a trade union issue. This call has been put forward again by the TUC with a new publication ‘Domestic Violence: A Guide for the Workplace’ which aims to assist unions and employers to develop ‘sympathetic and effective ways of assisting and supporting victims of domestic violence’. The TUC argue that the most effective way of giving this support is through a workplace policy on domestic violence.
The TUC publication highlights the fact that although there is no legal obligation on employers to take any action if they are made aware that a member of their workforce is experiencing domestic violence, it is clearly beneficial to all concerned that workplaces develop and publicise a policy covering the impact of domestic violence in the workplace. Not only will workplace policies benefit the employee/member but they are also effective tools to recruit and retain staff as they send a strong message to both employees and the wider community that the employer and the trade union are committed to supporting employees, and they can help to create a positive working environment in which staff feel supported.
CYWU has a long history of campaigning against inequality and improving the working conditions of its members and this publication presents guidance that could assist this Union to take the lead in this policy development. It offers clear and concise information regarding the development of a workplace policy on domestic violence, and also offers information and advice for trade union representatives of ways in which members who are experiencing domestic violence can be supported in the workplace. Be proactive, make domestic violence a trade union issue in your workplace by talking to your local rep or the Community and Youth Workers’ National Office on 0121 643 6221.
A copy of the TUC guide is available from TUC Publications on 0207 4671294 and costs £7.50 for affiliated unions.