On 5 October 2022, the work-life balance and miscellaneous provisions bill 2022 was presented to Dáil Éireann and legislation to implement it is currently being worked on by Green Party TD and Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth Roderic O’Gorman. While this bill mainly seeks to improve the work-life balance of parents and carers specifically, it also includes new supports for victims of domestic abuse. Passing this bill would mean that Ireland would become one of the first countries in Europe to provide workers with paid leave if they are suffering from, or at risk of, domestic violence. The proposed annual leave of 5 days has generally been welcomed by both government and opposition ministers, along with organisations such as Women’s Aid who work directly with women and children affected by such abuse. However, there is one major Irish organisation that is far from pleased about this bill.
Ibec, the new pseudo-acronym of the Irish Business and Employers Confederation, is Ireland’s largest and most vocal lobbying organisation. In March 2022, following a proposal from Sinn Féin TD and spokesperson on workers’ rights Louise O’Reilly for 10 days paid leave for abuse victims, Ibec were swift to voice their concerns. Similarly now, even though the government’s bill halved the number of allocated leave days, Ibec continues to object to this groundbreaking piece of legislation. In a move that has been widely condemned, they argued that employers, in a bid to stop any abuse of this new system, should be allowed to ask employees for proof if they are requesting domestic violence leave.
“The only way for this bill to have a meaningful impact on victims of domestic abuse is if they have the freedom to avail of it with no strings attached”
This is a staggeringly callous move from the lobbying group, and both the Taoiseach Micheál Martin and Tánaiste Leo Varadkar have been quick to reassure people that employees will not, under any circumstances, be forced to provide proof of their abuse to avail of the 5 days paid leave. Ibec’s insinuation that people would lie about suffering from domestic violence to claim extra days off has been widely condemned in the Dáil and across national media. Sentiments of distrust and scepticism are major reasons why many suffering from domestic violence remain trapped in abusive relationships. If Ibec’s wish was granted, and employers could ask for proof of abuse, this cycle of distrust only gets worse. Employees may not trust their employer enough to divulge such personal and traumatic information. Also, there are forms of abuse, such as emotional and psychological, that would be incredibly hard to prove. This would further discourage people from availing of a scheme that is desperately needed. As well as this, employers could simply decide that the proof provided to them by employees is not enough to warrant paid leave. The only way for this bill to have a meaningful impact on victims of domestic abuse is if they have the freedom to avail of it with no strings attached.
In addition to being callous, Ibec’s objections are also riddled with contradictions. A major point of their protestations concerns privacy issues. They argue that in small communities, where both the victim and perpetrator are known to the employer, issues regarding conflict of interest could arise. However, they also suggested that paid domestic violence leave should only be applicable in specific circumstances, such as if the employee is searching for emergency accommodation. However, this would require the employee telling their employer extremely private and detailed information about their personal circumstances, something that is obviously also a breach of privacy. It is clear that Ibec seems to be concerned about privacy right up until the moment that victims would ask for basic decency and respect for their personal affairs.
However, Ibec’s most egregious protest lies in their vying for the rights of those accused of domestic violence. They argue that in a particularly “acrimonious” relationship, one party could seek to defame the other by “claiming she/he is the victim of violence and applies for domestic violence leave on that basis.” Not only does this once again perpetuate the cycle of distrust when it comes to believing victims of domestic abuse, it is also a nonsensical negotiating point. If every law or piece of legislation was edited based on the worst-case scenario to appeal to the lowest common denominator, then nothing would change and no progress would be made in this country to actually help those who are vulnerable.
“ No person should have to re-traumatise themselves in front of their employer in order to avail of this monetary safety net”
October is International Domestic Abuse Awareness Month and unfortunately it is evident that there is still a long way to go with regards to adequate support for victims of domestic violence at work. The work-life balance and miscellaneous provisions bill is an encouraging example of progress being made. 5 days paid leave may provide people with the chance to attend counselling, court sessions or to secure new accommodation without fearing a lack of income. No person should have to re-traumatise themselves in front of their employer in order to avail of this monetary safety net. Thankfully, despite Ibec’s best efforts, no one will have to.