I was asked by the PPTA to be part of a panel discussing the economics of domestic violence. Here’s what I said:
“Tena kotou katoa. He mihi nui ki a kotou
Good evening. My name is James Shaw and I am the Co-leader of the Green Party of Aotearoa New Zealand. I am also our Economic Development spokesperson. Last week we announced that we do have a new Finance spokesperson, which is Julie-Anne Genter.
Julie is only the third female Finance spokesperson in New Zealand history, which is something I’m really proud of. Julie would have been here tonight, but unfortunately she’s out of the country at the moment and was unable to make it.
I’d like to acknowledge Diana, Suzanne, Kelvin, Alistair and Winston. I’d also like to acknowledge my colleague Jan Logie, who is here with us tonight. I’ll be speaking a bit more about Jan later on. Thank you to the New Zealand Federation of Graduate Women, the National Council of Women, and the Zonta Club for hosting me and for hosting this very important discussion.
I’m not going to spend my time here talking about how truly awful domestic violence is, because I know most people here have a fairly good idea of that already. And, I have no personal experience of domestic violence. My childhood was not shaped by fear for myself, or my mother. My childhood was shaped by love, and a deep sense of security. My home was a place of safety and comfort, love and respect; a place where I was free to become me. I feel very fortunate for that, and I know that this sort of upbringing, and this sort of household, is unfortunately not a given in New Zealand.
We’ve been asked to speak about the economic impacts of domestic violence and how our party intends to respond to the recommendations in the productivity gains and workplace protections reports. I feel I should I should preface this by saying that, yes, while the economic costs of domestic violence are real and they provide a strong business case for action, let’s put them into perspective. Such costs only serve to add a tiny bit of weight to the far greater imperative for the Government to save lives, and to actively ensure the freedoms of New Zealand women and children.
With that in mind, the Green Party currently has a Bill in the Parliamentary ballot called the Domestic Violence – Victims’ Protection Bill. It directly addresses the impact that domestic violence has on workers, workplaces and, indeed, productivity.
It acknowledges that the effects of domestic violence are not just limited to the home: they are also deeply felt in our workplaces and subsequently in our economy. The Bill was devised by my colleague, Jan Logie, who does a lot of work in this area and whom many of you will already know. Jan is an incredible advocate for victims of domestic violence. She works tirelessly to ensure their voices and stories are heard in Parliament and by the Green Party.
The Green Party believes that employers can have a part to play in mitigating the effects of domestic violence, and making the world a little safer for its victims.
I’m sure it may seem to many employers that it’s easier to ignore this issue, or that it’s none of their business. But the research tells us that it literally is their business.
In the Productivity Gains report from last year, which was released the same day that Jan’s Bill was announced, Suzanne Snively predicted that in 2014 alone, domestic violence would cost New Zealand businesses $368 million in lost productivity and staffing costs. 368 million dollars. And that number’s from one of the top economists in the land. When one in three Kiwi women experience domestic violence in their lifetime, you can see how such a figure can be reached.
$153 million of that 368 million was due to the cost of finding and training replacement workers for those who leave or are fired from a job as a result of problems stemming from domestic violence. So we know that “letting someone go” because, say, they haven’t been able to complete a 40-hour week due to “problems at home” ends up costing businesses in both the long and short run. We also know that the loss of a job comes at great personal expense to victims of domestic violence. It is yet another obstacle to their safety, security and happiness.
The Bill that the Green Party has put forward will enable more victims of domestic violence to stay in secure paid employment, maintaining productivity and reducing overall costs for employers. The ways in which domestic violence relates to New Zealand’s workplaces are myriad but Jan’s Bill names a few of them:
To quote the Bill itself:
“The abuser may make it hard for a victim to get to work or target the victim at work. The most common form of domestic violence experienced at work is abusive calls and emails. The strain of dealing with domestic violence can undermine a worker’s productivity, performance and wellbeing. Victims are particularly vulnerable in the workplace. This is due to the predictability of their location or working hours or both.
Domestic violence can also create problems for other staff and managers, who may be targeted as well, posing workplace safety and, ultimately, liability issue. In extreme cases, victims have been stalked and eventually killed by violent ex-partners whilst in the workplace.”
One important part of Jan’s Bill is that it requires employers to take all practicable steps to ensure union or health and safety reps are fully trained in how to support their colleagues who are victims of domestic violence. We know that creating a supportive work environment adds to better staff retention and better productivity so this is critical. As part of this, we also expect the Select Committee that is considering the Health and Safety Reform Bill to recommend MBIE develop guidance for employers on how to respond to domestic violence as a workplace hazard.
Another major part of Jan’s Bill was allowing flexible work arrangements for victims of domestic violence, including 10 extra days leave per year. I say “was” because we have already achieved part of this, which is great. Flexible work arrangements are now law and this technically should allow workers to request a change in hours to respond to their specific off-the-clock family issues.
Some business owners will of course balk at the potential cost for any new regulations. So we have floated the idea of using ACC as a way to fund these changes and I think it’s a good one. This is a health and safety issue and we should look at it that way.
I’d also like to think that any moves to reduce that $368 million-dollar nationwide bill for staffing costs and lost productivity would be welcomed by the business sector.
So, yes, the economic costs of domestic violence are real and they provide a strong business case for action. But, frankly, we shouldn’t need one. We shouldn’t need a business case for government action when there are lives at risk. The moral cost of doing nothing surely outweighs the relatively small cost of taking action. We should do this because, simply, it is the right thing to do. I believe so. So does the Green Party.”