UNISON urges better protection for domestic abuse victims

‘We need to do all we can to make domestic abuse history’, women’s conference is told

Pictured above: the North West regional women’s committee, domestic abuse group. Back row (l to r): Jessica Aitchison, Dawn Warriner, Christine Collins, Teresa Connally. Front row (l to r): Rachel Wright, Paula Craig and Lesley Lancelott.

One third of women report domestic abuse at some point in their lives. With almost 80% of UNISON’s 1.3 million women identifying as women, domestic abuse is most definitely a trade union issue, delegates at the annual women’s conference heard last week.

“Often the first sign of domestic abuse in the workplace is when women are called out for their work levels dipping, for having time off work or if they have unexplained injuries,” said Rachel Wright, of the North West regional women’s committee.

“UNISON is ideally placed to help support survivors of domestic abuse, as we are already established as a safe, secure and confidential place for members to share their issues.”

Only 5% of employers currently have a domestic violence policy and not all of these are up-to-date, Ms Wright continued. “A lot of workplaces are afraid of tackling the issue, because they think they’re going to have to sort out people’s lives. But it’s in everyone’s interest for domestic abuse to be addressed at the earliest possible stage. It ensures employers retain experienced staff and women receive the support they need.”

North West regional women’s committee has set up a domestic abuse group to explore different ways of supporting members in the workplace. At conference, group member Paula Craig (pictured above) explained to delegates her role as a domestic abuse champion at Cheshire Police, a volunteer role that has been developed as a result of the group’s work.

“As a domestic abuse champion my role is to listen to, support and signpost domestic abuse victims to professional services. Women need to feel supported and know that their information will be treated confidentially, if they disclose.”

The domestic abuse champion also educates and informs the  employer about domestic abuse issues and ensures suitable adjustments are made at work when a member is living with or escaping from domestic violence and abuse, she said. These can include:

  • Paid time off to attend appointments;
  • Protection to and from travelling to work, if required;
  • Dedicated space at work to organise domestic issues like bills, housing etc.

Conference heard that, during the pandemic, calls to domestic abuse helplines increased by 65% and it is estimated that there are currently around 2.4 million people experiencing domestic abuse. The number of domestic abuse murders increased also.

One member told her fellow delegates: “We need to do all we can to make domestic abuse history. I’m a survivor of domestic abuse and it’s made me stronger, more determined and the person I am today.”

A composite motion was passed that calls on the national women’s committee to:

  • Work with learning and organising services (LAOS) to provide training for all UNISON stewards on domestic violence – reviewing and updating the presently available training courses and information for activists and women members who may be impacted by domestic violence either directly or indirectly;
  • Ask all UNISON branches to provide support for women having to flee without preparation, including photocopying essential documents, such as birth certificates, passports and any rent/mortgage agreements and emergency packs including basic toiletries;
  • Support the TUC’s campaign encouraging all employers to develop and implement workplace domestic abuse policies; provide mandatory training for all employees; and offer victims 10 days’ paid leave and a day one right to flexible working;
  • Support the TUC’s call for wider reforms of Universal Credit and funding for domestic abuse support services;
  • Produce guidance that can help signpost help and support for women members both at home and in the workplace.

The role of the domestic abuse champion was also discussed at length at a fringe meeting. The eventual aim is for every UNISON branch to have someone in this role, performing a similar function to UNISON’s mental health first-aiders – there to advise and signpost members to relevant support organisations, rather than provide support themselves.