Response to Bill Leak and The Australian

The Australian newspaper recently published a disgraceful attack on rail workers, accusing them of faking incidents of family violence in order to take time off work.

The attack consisted of:

The two articles, and particularly the cartoon, not only slandered RTBU members, they demeaned victims of family violence. 

Naturally, the RTBU sought a 'right-of-reply' in the newspaper, however The Australian refused to print our response - on the grounds that if it gave a right-of-reply to everyone it attacked, smeared and slandered, then it would be "running nothing else". 

Below is the response from RTBU Victorian Branch Secretary Luba Grigorovitch - which explains why Family Violence Leave is so important to our union.


By Luba Grigorovitch

Luba_Grigorovitch_j9jceUEguiMm.jpg"Why didn’t she just leave?”

It’s the question people always ask about women in violent and abusive relationships – usually after the woman in question has been attacked or killed.

The fact this question gets asked at all demonstrates a lack of understanding in the broader community about the nature of violent relationships – because at the heart of domestic violence is the issue of control.

A partner that seeks control, and is prepared to use violence and intimidation to achieve it, probably also has control over the couple’s finances, housing arrangements, and possessions.

And a partner who’s prepared to use violence and intimidation within a relationship is probably just as capable of using threats and emotional blackmail to prevent the other partner from starting afresh.

Breaking away in such a situation can be a logistical, emotional and legal nightmare.

Throw in the needs of children, and the complications in this scenario increase tenfold.

Working your way through this mess takes more than just courage.  It also requires time.

Time to find a place to live. Time to see a doctor. Time to set up new bank accounts and establish financial independence. Time to seek legal advice, and attend court hearings. Time to enrol children in new schools. Time to get counselling and professional support.

But if you’re trying to hold down a job, that could be time you just don’t have.

In short, time is one major reason why women don’t leave – until it is too late.

We know that access to special leave in times of crisis can help change a person’s life. More than that, it can save a person’s life.

Domestic Violence Leave

This is why unions such as the Rail, Tram and Bus Union (RTBU) have been making Domestic Violence Leave an important item in every single Enterprise Agreement we negotiate on behalf of our members.

We know that access to special leave in times of crisis can help change a person’s life.

More than that, it can save a person’s life.

Many employers understand how domestic violence impacts on an employees’ wellbeing, and their ability to function at work.

They also understand that an employee going through a personal crisis is more likely to be unproductive or at least distracted.

And they understand that giving an employee extra time to deal with their personal situation is a more cost effective solution than forcing that employee to resign, and having to recruit and train someone else.

The Metro Agreement

Melbourne’s passenger rail operator Metro is one such company that has recognised the value of putting Family Violence provisions into their workplace agreements.

The recent Metro Infrastructure agreement notes that:

An Employee experiencing family violence will have access to twenty (20) days per year (non-accumulative) of paid special leave for medical appointments, legal proceedings, and other activities related to family violence.

The agreement also stipulates that:

Proof of family violence may be required, and can be in the form of an agreed document issued by the Police Service, a Court, a Doctor, District Nurse, Maternal Health Care Nurse, a Family Violence Support Service or Lawyer.

While the RTBU has its problems with Metro, we recognise that Metro is serious about providing support for workers who are experiencing domestic violence, and we congratulate the company for doing so.

Domestic Violence is not a joke

Elements of the Australian media, however, continue to treat the issue of Domestic Violence Leave as a joke.

Most recently, The Australian was critical of the Domestic Violence Leave clause in the RTBU’s agreement with Metro on the basis that it would somehow contribute to pushing up the cost of infrastructure.

The Australian rolled out the Chair of Beyondblue (and former Liberal Premier) Jeff Kennett to back up this spurious argument.

Frankly, Mr Kennett should know better.

It is tempting to dismiss Mr Leak’s cartoon as an isolated provocation from a notorious attention-seeker who thrives on controversy.  Sadly, however, it cannot be dismissed so easily.

More concerning, however, was the cartoon accompanying the article in The Australian.  The cartoon, by Bill Leak, depicted a male rail worker asking his female partner to hit him over the head with a champagne bottle so he could access paid Domestic Violence Leave.

The cartoon reduced Domestic Violence Leave to nothing more than a cynical rort for blue-collar workers so that they can take extra holidays.

It is tempting to dismiss Mr Leak’s cartoon as an isolated provocation from a notorious attention-seeker who thrives on controversy.  Sadly, however, it cannot be dismissed so easily.

People who think it’s OK to make jokes about domestic violence are drinking from the same misogynist well as those who think it’s OK to brag about grabbing women “by the pussy”.

It is these people, secure in their own entitlement and privilege, who sit around chortling about women’s rights as “political correctness gone mad”, while defiantly upholding their own so-called “right to free speech”.

And it is these ignorant, dismissive attitudes which make it even harder for women to come forward and seek help when they are stuck in dangerous and abusive relationships.

Media has a responsibility to treat Domestic Violence seriously

It is profoundly disappointing that News Ltd, the publisher of The Australian, allowed Mr Leak’s appalling, sexist cheap shot to stain the pages of its flagship national broadsheet.

As a society, we must do more to end the scourge of domestic violence, and the media has a responsibility to treat the issue of domestic violence with the seriousness it deserves.

Luba Grigorovitch is the Secretary of the RTBU Victorian Branch.

*** We Are Union Women has started a petition calling on The Australian to stop trivialising family violence. You can sign the petition here.