N.L. introducing paid and unpaid leave for victims of domestic violence

Proposed changes to the Labour Standards Act in Newfoundland and Labrador would allow victims to take three paid and seven unpaid days off work.

Liberal government plans to amend Labour Standards Act to allow for up to 10 leave days annually

Provincial cabinet ministers Al Hawkins and Siobhan Coady announce proposed changes that would provide work leave due to family violence in Newfoundland and Labrador. (Carolyn Stokes/CBC)

The provincial government will amend the Labour Standards Act to allow victims of family violence to take leave from work, making Newfoundland and Labrador the latest province to enact similar legislation.

The changes mean a person can take a total of 10 days a year, with three of them paid and seven unpaid, the government announced at a media conference Thursday.

If passed, the family violence leave provisions will come into effect Jan. 1.

"It is critical for governments to work to address all aspects of domestic violence and the impacts that it has on individuals," Al Hawkins, minister of Advanced Education, Skills and Labour, said at the announcement.

That involves providing the tools needed to make it easier for people to report violence and seek out the help they need, Hawkins said.

Right now, only British Columbia, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, and Newfoundland and Labrador lack similar legislation, but P.E.I. and Nova Scotia are considering it.

The federal government is also discussing giving federally regulated workers paid domestic violence leave.

"I'm really pleased with the direction that the legislation is going in, and it's a real indication of how important it is for government to really be responsive to and listen to those who are working on the front lines," said NDP Leader Gerry Rogers.

However, Rogers said, she'd like the province to provide five paid days, as other jurisdictions have done.

"Let's do this right first off," she said.

Family violence underreported

Family violence encompasses several different kinds of behaviour, not only physical violence:

  • Physical or sexual assault.
     
  • Physical confinement.
     
  • Deprivation of food, clothing, medical attention, shelter, transportation and other necessities of life.
     
  • Conduct that causes someone to fear for their safety, or causes psychological or emotional harm.

Family violence leave will allow victims to take time off to get medical attention, receive counselling, find accommodations or seek legal advice.

"It's just a matter of allowing the space for people who need to leave to get matters looked after in those situations," said Mary Shortall, president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Labour.

This move is a good start to helping people prevent job and income loss when they experience family violence, something Michelle Greene says they have seen at Iris Kirby House, which provides housing supports and other resources to women and children affected by family violence. 

"There's so many other barriers," said Greene, Iris Kirby's executive director. 

"This is a very great first step, I don't want to negate that at all, but I don't want to lose the momentum either."

There were 1,251 incidents of police-reported family violence in the province in 2016, according to Statistics Canada. However, research suggests that only 10 per cent of such incidents are reported.

That number significantly underrepresents the problem, Greene said. At Iris Kirby alone, they see about 450 admissions each year, she said, and take about 20,000 phone calls. 

"There's that many in need. We have to turn people away," said Greene, who said their housing is usually at 85 or 95 per cent full.

Domestic violence costs businesses $78 million per year in Canada, according to a 2009 report from the federal Justice Department.

With files from Carolyn Stokes

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