Investing within the workplace to break the cycle of family violence

The Domestic Violence (Victims’ Protection) Bill currently before Parliament presents an opportunity to bring about some of the most significant social change in New Zealand since the introduction of universal suffrage in 1893. And it’s good for business.

When she was Minister of Justice, Amy Adams reported 100,000 incidents of abuse were reported to the Police in 2014.  As she said then, that’s one incident every 5 minutes. Nearly half of all homicides and reported violent crime in New Zealand are family-violence related. Better record-keeping and public awareness since 2014 has resulted in even more incidents coming to light - providing evidence of that the magnitude of domestic violence if anything has been underestimated.

New Zealand has the highest reported rate of intimate partner violence in the developed world and the fifth highest of child abuse.  Intimate partner abuse is estimated to affect as many as 1 in 3 women. To date, the “treatment” of family violence has focused on addressing the symptoms, rather than the cause, the prevention or the cure. That has a cost. For the year ended 2014, child abuse and violence between partners was estimated to cost New Zealand up to $7 billion a year and rising.

We can reverse this trend, and we can start in the workplace.

 A consistent message from people in relationships where there is intimate partner abuse is that the workplace provides a pathway to gain confidence and escape from the smothering rage and hurt such abuse engenders.  In other words, workplaces are part of the answer for breaking the cycle of violence that currently permeates such a large proportion of our society. 

It makes intuitive sense that having a secure job and financial stability removes a lot of the obstacles for victims to get out of violent situations. What is less well understood is the serious costs employers are currently paying for the impact of violence on workers and their colleagues.

We’ve calculated the cost to New Zealand businesses. The hazards created by domestic violence - distraction at work, recruitment (when a victim has no choice but leaving), retention and re-training – cost employers, be they small, medium or large, an average of nearly $3,500 a year per employee (who is a victim of domestic violence).

But it’s a different story when employers are well-informed about domestic violence and properly manage it as a workplace risk. Then, survivors go on to achieve and maintain security in their home lives. This enables them to rebuild their confidence and in a relatively short time they reward the employer’s support with increased commitment and improved productivity.  In other words, for a business adopting workplace protection for victims of family abuse, as well as saving the costs of ongoing violence, the business will experience significant overall productivity gains in a very short time as both the survivors of domestic abuse and their colleagues become more focused because of fewer distractions and reduced stress.

That could be achieved for every business with the passage of Jan Logie’s Domestic Violence (Victims’ Protection) Bill. And by setting a basic standard across every workplace, it ensures no business can undercut its competitors by scrimping on support for victims of violence – and that no victim has to rely on the luck of the draw to get the help they need from their employer to get out of the violence in their lives.

We have an opportunity to reverse our terrible, growing rates of domestic violence in New Zealand, and doing it through the framework provided by the Domestic Violence (Victims’ Protection) Bill will save lives, while saving costs and increasing business productivity. It would be worth doing even if it only achieved the former. When it achieves both, it is hard to see why anyone would object.

Suzanne Snively is a former Reserve Bank board member, professional director and chairwoman of Transparency International NZ. 

Rider: This content is not commissioned or paid for by NBR

 

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