Trade Unions winning support for domestic abuse survivors

Should I stay or should I go?
Statement to members

Trade Unions winning support for domestic abuse survivors

TUC Yorkshire & Humber hosted a fringe meeting on the above subject at this year’s Women’s TUC. Dr Gemma Wibberley of the University of Central Lancashire presented findings from research done with her colleague Dr Carol Jones and with Dr Tony Bennett from Sheffield Hallam University: “Addressing the impact of Domestic Abuse in the Workplace: The key role of unions”.

Some statistics

  • 28.9% of women and 13.2% of men suffering from domestic abuse during their lifetime in England and Wales (ONS, 2018)
  • The National Abuse Helpline has had a 25% increase in calls during Covid, due to most women working from home. Women are not getting the usual workplace respite; this being called a ‘shadow pandemic’.
  • Affecting all types of workers –regardless of job, role, seniority
  • TUC survey found that 13% of staff were experiencing domestic abuse in the workplace. £14billion, and that is deemed an underestimated amount, is lost in productivity. And £15billion could be saved if domestic abuse survivors could be supported.

Signs to look out for in the workplace

Potential signs to look out for is that a colleague may be unable/declining to attend events like going out for lunch with colleagues (if finance is being withheld for example), or they may actually make more time to spend in the workplace, they may be reluctant to use communications or work equipment, they may be less likely to come into work (if they haven’t got the finances to travel into work or may have been injured), they may get excessive phone calls, or they may be stalked on their commute.

Domestic abuse is a workplace issue

Though domestic abuse is in many cases continued to be seen as a private matter, ‘it is not a workplace issue’, it IS most definitely a workplace matter. Those experiencing domestic abuse can end up in formal procedures around performance/absence management. People having been injured for example and scared of disclosing might say they have flu or something else. Someone may start crying or getting upset in work and managers may think they cannot manage their job. It is very easy to misinterpret patterns if staff do not want to disclose. People may end up being made redundant as a result or resign.

Workplace-wise it concerns health & safety and the need to make reasonable adjustments. For example, security-wise, can the member of staff change their getting to and from work patterns or can they be moved to a different site? Can they be given paid time off to move home and recover? Can triggers for absence management be adjusted? Can counselling be organised for them? What additional resources can they be signposted to?

The role of trade unions and reps

This is where the role of trade unions and reps can be crucial. One is to see if the employer has a Domestic Abuse policy and if not, to negotiate one. Training for HR and managers should also be provided. A good idea also is to get a network of Domestic Abuse Champions in the workplaces set up.

Finally, it was raised by Annie, a rep on the buses in the North, speaking about her own experience of domestic abuse and becoming a DA Champion in her workplace, that even though as a rep if you can spot the signs of a colleague experiencing domestic abuse, that you cannot force them to disclose. The role of the rep is to make it easier for people to disclose if they are ready as some may not even know yet that they are being abused. The rep is there to support, emphasise in a non-judgemental way; drop little breadcrumbs to try them to disclose when you spot the signs but never enforce disclosure. Putting the individual first is important as well as raising awareness on it, reducing the stigma around it and signpost to what help may be available.

The UCU and NEU trade unions have their own domestic abuse policy and toolkit for reps. It made me think Napo perhaps should also develop one and roll out some awareness training for reps/members around it.

Annoesjka Valent, National Official (TUO).

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