‘Help, boss, I need time out - my hubby is going to kill me’
Activists say employers need to do more to assist employees who are victims of domestic violence
A Limpopo electrical company was “too busy with a government contract” to give a 32-year-old dispatch clerk time off from work to escape her abusive husband.
The woman, who asked not to be named, had to wait two months until the company closed for the December holidays before she fled to a safer home.
“I could not leave after working hours because my husband would have been at home and I would have been killed on the spot. My employer did not understand this and I was not aware of any labour laws to protect me if I stayed away to get my personal life in order,” she told Times Select.
A week ago New Zealand became the second country, after the Philippines, to grant paid leave to victims of domestic violence to escape their abusive situation.Under the new legislation, employers must grant victims up to 10 days to give them enough time to escape abusive situations, which include moving out of their homes or attending court hearings.
University of Witwatersrand researcher and gender activist Lisa Vetten said some SA employers were sympathetic towards victims of domestic violence.
“Some are very helpful. They refer women to legal and counselling assistance, give them time off work, and provide advances on women’s salaries if they need to make deposits on new accommodation. They have also invited organisations to speak to their staff on these issues and made donations to shelters,” she said.
Other employers are simply not interested.
“Some companies are completely unhelpful – to the extent that women have lost their jobs, often for taking time off work as a result of having been injured,” Vetten said.
The issue around leave for victims of abuse comes as SA grapples with issues of gender violence and rape particularly during Women’s Month.
New Zealand’s new legislation would not be enough if introduced in South Africa, said Vetten. “Many women in abusive relationships are unemployed or working in the informal sector. I would like to see such a law also placing an onus on the corporate sector to give far more generously to services for women than it currently does.”According to the Business in Society Handbook (Trialogue, 2017), the social welfare sector attracted 15% of corporate social investment.
“Victims of violence and abuse, as a category, received 4% of the funds disbursed within this category. I would also like to see companies link with domestic violence services, especially shelters, to offer job skills training, internships and other workplace opportunities to women,” Vetten said.
Sonke Gender Justice policy development and advocacy specialist Marike Keller said the government paid a lot of sympathetic lip service to victims of abuse yet there was no political will to address violence against women.
“We have been calling for a multi-sectoral, costed national strategic plan on gender-based violence for the past four years and continue to do so,” she said.
She explained that victims of abuse required time off as some may experience latent and prolonged trauma, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, which may affect their concentration and ability to perform at work.
“Some may be facing legal battles, or need the time to move out of the home and make alternative arrangements for themselves and their children, if they have any. Having time off to receive counselling, attend court proceedings and move will go a long way to ensuring that they are able to leave abusive relationships,” Keller said.