A call for statutory paid leave for victims of domestic violence has been unanimously supported by delegates at the biennial conference of the country’s main public sector union.
Meeting in Killarney on Friday, Fórsa members supported motions to provide leave to allow victims attend medical, legal and other commitments arising out of abuse and its consequences.
A dramatic rise in the incidence and reporting of domestic abuse during the pandemic had made the need for action by Government on the issue more urgent, the conference was told.
Chair of the ICTU's Women's Committee, Margaret Coughlan said a recent meeting with Government representatives had yielded assurances that the matter "is on the agenda".
Proposing the motion, Fórsa national secretary Ashley Connolly said as things stand "victims end up having to take unpaid leave, use up annual leave, or even miss work and risk losing the very job that gets them out of an abusive situation, if only for a few hours each day" when they have to attend what are often critically important appointments.
“Most can’t do this outside working hours, either because the services aren’t available or, worse, because they need to hide this from their abusers.”
Linda O' Sullivan a special needs assistant from north Dublin supported the call for the required legislation. "Domestic violence is indeed very much the shadow pandemic of this country," she said citing figures that suggested there had been almost 50,000 reports of abuse to An Garda Síochána last year.
“The real figure is certainly higher. As a union representative I repeatedly see members having to resort to using sick leave. But they are not sick. They’re being abused. Domestic violence is a serious crime... and rates soared through the various lockdowns.
"Domestic violence paid leave is crucial now more than ever," she said. "In New Zealand and the Philippines, we have seen a move to introduce paid leave for those experiencing domestic abuse. New Zealand brought in family violence leave in 2019 which entitles employees to 10 days or more when dealing with or leaving a situation of domestic abuse.
“It also allows for employees to request for short term flexible arrangements for a period of up to two months. These provisions make for an enormous difference to any worker needing to avail of leave during an already difficult and stressful period.”
Anne Collins of the Legal and Professional branch works in the office of the DPP where there has been "a massive increase during the pandemic of files received concerning domestic violence and gender based violence".
“My office is actually working on a strategic plan to work with other bodies in the criminal justice system to improve the treatment and the experience of victims when they go to court,” she said.
“One of the issues that we have is because of delays in the criminal justice system — cases going on, going off — women who have been brave enough to come forward about their problems and make a complaint, find it difficult to get time off work continuously to keep coming to court.”
Another speaker, Helen Gadd of Fingal County Council branch, said that despite progress on the issue, there is an enduring stigma attached to speaking about being a victim of abuse.
She suggested some of the coverage of the case between Johnny Depp and Amber Heard had not helped with the couple presented as though "they are both some sort of spectacle for us all to be entertained by".