Affording time off after domestic violence

The PEI government has asked for public input into the proposed amendments to the province’s Employment Standards Act, including amendments that will provide survivors of domestic, intimate partner and sexual violence with 3 days paid and 7 days unpaid leave from their places of employment. Introduced by the Progressive Conservatives and supported by all parties, this addition to the Act recognizes the hardships that victims of domestic violence face when attempting to leave an abusive situation and the financial stress it puts on them, without the additional worry of possible job loss.   

A quick scan of what other jurisdictions are doing to support victims of domestic violence shows that the 3 days of paid leave falls well below the bar. Ontario, New Brunswick, and Manitoba have all passed legislation that allows for a minimum of 5 paid and 5 unpaid days of leave, while federal employees now have access to 5 paid days as well.

Internationally, New Zealand is at the top of the curve after its recent decision to allow 10 days of paid leave for victims of domestic violence. This decision that has been rightfully applauded by social justice organizations, unions, and women’s advocacy groups, such as PEI UPSE and the Women’s Network of PEI, as a step in the right direction. Dr. Ang Jury, the chief executive of Women’s Refuge in New Zealand states that “we know women’s economic situation is pivotal to her choices that decides what she can and can’t do. If she can retain her job and retain the confidence of her employer, whilst still dealing with domestic issues, then that is great news.”

However, these decisions, in both PEI and New Zealand, are recognized to be in no way a “magic bullet” as they are not preventative in nature and victims of violence are unlikely to be able to access all the supports they need - legal, health, mental health, and social - within 10 days of leave. Also, we must ensure that community and mental health resources, such as shelters, support groups and counsellors, receive adequate and sustainable funding to support victims within, and beyond, these initial 10 days.

It takes significant courage and support to take the steps to leave a violent domestic situation and while implementing domestic violence leave in PEI  is a huge step forward - we wonder - how many people can afford to take 7 days of UNPAID leave? It is very likely that the new PEI legislation will fall short of what’s needed to support our most economically vulnerable domestic violence victims.

Susan Hartley is the Green Party Shadow Critic for Health & Wellness.

Trish Altass is the Green Party Shadow Critic for Worforce & Advanced Learning.