Tackling VAW in workplaces

by Janine Booth

Domestic abuse and violence has been taken up as a workplace and trade union issue since the 1990s, under the impact of feminist-inspired campaigning and practical work of organisations like Women’s Aid.

Unison was at the forefront of these initiatives. In 2002 the TUC published a guide on domestic violence for unions and employers.

In terms of formal union policies DV has correctly long been seen as a social issue that can not be confined to the “private sphere”. It impacts on our ability to work. In most workplaces someone will have experienced it directly or indirectly. Unions need to negotiate specific policies with employers. Unions can also provide a certain amount of practical support and information, even if it is just flagging up specialised help.

While all UK unions have good policy, and a sincere commitment to do something, it is more difficult to assess out exactly how this is being incorporated into union organising on the ground and success in negotiating with employers. The article about organising in the RMT highlights those issues.

With a 30% cut in funding for organisations that support DV abuse sufferers, it will be increasingly important for workers to be able to access support through their workplace.

Transport workers’ union RMT is demanding that employers adopt a policy on domestic violence, and has submitted a model policy to every company it has negotiating rights with. Cross-Europe transport trade union body the European Transport Workers’ Federation is also taking up this issue through the work of its Women’s Committee.

In 2011, RMT’s Women’s Conference passed a policy rightly deploring cuts to women’s refuges. But as a trade union, we also have a responsibility to identify the workplace implications of domestic violence. Transport workers are subjected to an alarming level of assault at work, often taking the hit for frustrations with our bosses’ failure to provide a decent service.

Unions have long demanded the right of transport workers to go to work without being assaulted. But we also need the right to go home after work and not be assaulted.

Domestic violence is a workplace issue that affects its victims — mostly women but sometimes men — at work. It can affect how well you do you job, your timekeeping, and your physical and mental well-being.

Our model policy contains key demands such as: no disciplinary action under Attendance policies for non-attendance and lateness caused by domestic abuse; protection from abusers seeking you out at work; and time off that you might need to escape domestic violence (or to help a close friend or relative).

You might think that even hard-faced employers would not resist measures that provide a degree of protection at relatively little cost. But while some employers have agreed to discuss the policy, one or two major employers have resisted, arguing that their employees’ personal lives are not their concern.

The idea that domestic violence is a private matter has been around for a long time. It helps to protect its perpetrators and disempower its victims. We can not tolerate employers taking such a stance — especially as they are supposed to have a “duty of care”!

The transport unions refused to be fobbed off. ASLEF is backing up the RMT and making clear that it also wishes to see employers adopt domestic violence policies. The unions have forced the employers to discuss the issue, but their unwillingness is a warning to us that we will need to campaign as well as negotiate.

We have to get the issue of domestic violence out from behind closed doors and into the mainstream of industrial relations.

Janine Booth is a London Underground worker and represents London Transport workers on the RMT union executive (she is writing here in a personal capacity)

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About womensfightback17

Women’s Fightback is a socialist feminist paper and blog produced by members and supporters of the socialist group Workers' Liberty. Workers’ Liberty is a revolutionary socialist organisation fighting as part of the labour and student movements, and in campaigns, for a socialist alternative to capitalism, based on common ownership and democracy.

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