Each year on December 6, Canadians honour the 14 women who were indiscriminately killed in 1989 at the École Polytechnique in Montreal. By his own admission, the gunman was motivated by a hatred of feminists. To this day, this senseless act of violence serves as a reminder to speak up and take action against gender-based violence.

To escape abusive relationships, women – often women with children – require support on many fronts. It can be difficult for victims to obtain psychological support, seek legal remedies, find shelter and childcare… all while trying to put in a full day’s work. They need to be able to seek the help they need while knowing that they aren’t putting their job and income in jeopardy.

For this reason, unions have started demanding something new at the bargaining table: paid leave for individuals experiencing a domestic violence crisis. PSAC has been advocating for 10 days of paid leave; the 2018 PSAC convention saw delegates pledge their unanimous support to “take concrete steps to address the needs of these victims.”

In 2016, the Province of Manitoba amended its employment standards to provide five days of paid leave to victims of domestic violence. Last month, Newfoundland and Labrador announced it would amend its Labour Standards Act to provide ten days of leave, three of which would be paid. The federal government plans to amend the Canada Labour Code to allow for ten days of leave (five paid and five unpaid) for victims of domestic violence who work in federally-regulated workplaces. According to CBC, the change could take two years to implement, but the government indicates it wants to move quickly.

Across the globe, several countries have similar legislation. The Philippines were the first country to introduce paid time off for victims of domestic violence: in 2004, they passed a law allowing ten days of paid leave. Earlier this year, Australia and New Zealand passed their own laws, granting five days of unpaid leave and ten days of paid leave respectively.

In Australia, it’s estimated that a woman will spend about $18,000 to leave an abusive relationship. When a woman is trying to extricate herself from a violent household, the last thing she should be worried about is her income and job security. That’s why we must continue to advocate for paid leave and only paid leave.

That extra bit of financial security might make all the difference in the world. It could be the difference between staying in an abusive relationship or choosing to leave.

In Canada, where a woman is killed by her partner every six days, this could be the difference between life and death.

To find out more about how unions can put forward clauses on domestic violence during collective bargaining, visit the Canadian Labour Congress’ website.

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