She has moved to Bali now. Moved to get away from the pain and the memories. And those who know her have asked me not to mention her name because she was exhausted by all the attention.
But this woman, who worked for a seaside council in Victoria and was a delegate for her union, has changed the lives of 2 million workers. And on Tuesday, her legacy just may change your life too.
The Australian Council of Trade Unions is lodging a claim at the Fair Work Commission to secure 10 days paid domestic violence leave as a minimum entitlement for all employees. If this is adopted, casual employees will also be eligible for 10 days unpaid leave.
In 2011, Whittlesea Council in Victoria was one of the first workplaces in Australia to provide this ground-breaking leave; and Anne McLeish, the team leader of employee relations at the council, implores other employers to follow the lead. She says that of 1100 employees, only 14 have accessed some level of domestic violence leave since 2011. Every manager at the council also undergoes mandatory training to assist those who have suffered domestic violence.
Now, nearly 2 million Australians are covered, says Ged Kearney, the president of the ACTU; and that's been achieved through union bargaining in various workplace and enterprise agreements. Kearney credits the Victorian branch of the Australian Services Union's foundational work in 2011, led by the now branch executive president Lisa Darmanin; and the young woman who now lives in Bali, a then-member of the ASU. She was a delegate who knew from personal experience how tough it was for workers who suffered domestic violence to get help when they most needed it. Powering away in the background was the pioneering research and lobbying work of the Australian Domestic and Family Violence Clearing House (now part of the National Research Organisation for Women's Safety) which had been trying to get cut-through with politicians, few of whom were willing to stand up.
We all know how individual instances of domestic violence are hidden away. It's the shame and the pain and the fear that it will happen again. Women drag themselves to work covered in bruises, bleeding, broken, because it's just not possible for their families to do without the money. Then it's all the questions. Can you trust your boss enough to let him or her know exactly how damaged you are? And what will happen to you or your kids if your abuser ever finds out you talked about it at work and begged for help?
A woman I spoke to on Sunday said her employer had been extraordinary – early last year, she missed days because of court appearances and dealing with a sudden but forced move from home (the police had advised her to leave). The onset of the abuse was quick yet her manager did not blink: "He said, 'take as much time as you need' and I wasn't penalised." He offered both sympathy and real assistance. This women, now in her early 40s, described the ACTU's campaign as essential: "The sad thing is that domestic violence is an epidemic."
Lisa Darmanin, executive president of the Victorian and Tasmanian Authorities and Services branch of the ASU, says the takeup since those early days has been phenomenal. Those 2 million workers now covered in their enterprise agreements are at the forefront of an extraordinary social justice policy, implemented without fuss in just three years. Darmanin points to the tortuous path of paid parental leave to show just how hard it can be to get workers, unions, employers, lobbyists and governments all working together to benefit everyone.
Domestic violence costs the Australian economy serious money. In 2004, Access Economics estimated that cost at $8 billion. Just seven years later, National Council To Reduce Violence Against Women And Their Children figures assessed the cost to the community at nearly $14 billion. And a 2009 report The Cost of Violence Against Women and Their Children said that without appropriate action to address that, an estimated 750,000 Australian women will experience and report violence in the period of 2021-22.
Domestic violence won't be stopped by the ACTU's move to give these rights to all of us, but it will stop victims from losing money. It will also provide them with comfort and support when they fear they have none.
McLeish from Whittlesea says that it's clear that those who experience domestic violence are more likely not to be able to perform their jobs to the best of their abilities. And they will skip work to avoid the humiliation and because they need to have time to see the police, to go to court, to go to the doctors.
To her employees, she says this: "We know that's going to happen but don't be afraid to come forward. We will support you."
How remarkable it would be if every single employer in Australia would behave the same way. Wish the ACTU godspeed as this claim makes its way through the Fair Work Commission award review process.
Make sure employers and governments and the Fair Work Commission australianunions.org.au/whiteribbon know exactly how important this is. To you as an individual. To us as a country.
We imagine we don't all experience domestic violence. And it's true, we don't all suffer the bruises. But it affects our neighbours and our colleagues - and so it affects us all.