The standing committee on justice met on Thursday to discuss Bill 8, an amendment to Manitoba's Employment Standards Code that requires employers to pay for five days of leave for domestic violence victims.

The paid days-off are intended to allow employees the chance to get psychological help, obtain support from victim services organizations, move away from their abuser, get medical attention, or seek out legal or law enforcement assistance, the legislation states.

"Five days would enable a person to go out and start seeking help and know they have the security to return back to a job," said Michelle Gawronsky, president of the Manitoba Government and General Employees' Union (MGEU).

MGEU strongly supports Bill 8, she said, if only to allow employees access to key services for victims available during regular business hours.

"When you're in a situation like this, emotion, fear—it runs high. Just knowing that you've got a job to return to is a huge bonus in that you're able to put your life back in order and still contribute to society," Gawronsky said, who herself is a survivor of domestic abuse.

Abusers should pay, not employers

William Gardner, chair of the Manitoba Employers' Council, is concerned Bill 8 places too heavy a burden on an innocent party.

"If you really want to reduce domestic violence, then don't focus on employers. Focus on the offender," he said.

"Figure out a way to make it easy and relatively inexpensive for a victim to recover ... wages [from the] offender. If you do that, I promise you'll get results."

Bill 8 is unprecedented in Canada, said Gardner, who is a lawyer with Pitblado Law

"We have no idea whether there's going to be unintended, adverse consequences. We have no idea whether this will cost more jobs than it saves," he said.

Unpaid leave, such as bereavement leave and compassionate care leave, is unpaid and it tends to self-regulate, he said.

Bill 8 is "a blunt instrument and cannot do as good a job as individualized, fact-based solutions between individual employees and their employer," argued Gardner.

Gawronsky is convinced Manitoba needs Bill 8 to protect women and children fleeing violence. To give victims the chance to become survivors. 

"This is something we need to not just be discussing in the legislative chambers and committee rooms and bargaining rooms," she said.

"We need to be discussing this in our living rooms and at our kitchen tables."