2 Jun, 2017 5:00am

Ann Simmons, who is advocating for a law change to provide domestic violence leave. New Zealand Herald photo Nicholas Jones.

Ann Simmons, who is advocating for a law change to provide domestic violence leave. New Zealand Herald photo Nicholas Jones.

 A nurse has spoken about losing her job after suffering violence and rape at the hands of her partner – urging Parliament to back domestic violence leave.

MPs on the justice and electoral committee thanked Ann Simmons for her bravery after listening in silence to her story.

The committee is working through dozens of submissions on legislation that would allow victims of abuse to get up to 10 extra days’ leave a year and would classify family violence as a workplace hazard.

Simmons, family violence prevention coordinator at Capital & Coast DHB and a registered midwife, appeared on behalf of the NZ Nurses Organisation, a union representing 48,000 nurses and strongly supportive of the change.

She recalled the experience of a woman with two young children, who came home from an afternoon shift as a nurse an hour later than expected.

“The busy shift was not an excuse her partner would accept. He punched her in the face, in the stomach, threw her across the room and raped her. Soon after he passed out as he was extremely drunk,” Simmons told the committee.

“The nurse rang a friend and within half an hour the friend’s brother arrived. He stood guard while belongings were hurriedly thrown into bags.”

The woman’s partner was arrested and charged, but released once he sobered up and still “incredibly dangerous”, Simmons said.

“She needed to tell her boss she couldn’t go to work. A white, university-graduate woman with two children needed to say, ‘I am the victim of domestic violence, I cannot come to work’. That is so hard to do. She had no annual leave, she had used most of her sick leave due to previous assaults and staying at home to protect her children.

“Her work suggested she resign. If there had been any leave available to her, she may have been able to hold onto her job and not become yet another solo mum on the DPB. This story is me.

“Women need their employers to understand how hard it is to maintain a normal life in the eyes of society when all they know is violence in their home life.”

After the committee, Simmons told the Herald the described events happened around 30 years ago, when she worked for another employer. She hadn’t told them of previous domestic violence incidents, but had revealed the attack just prior to the suggestion she resign.

Simmons said she decided to tell her story to help continue the “slow change” in society’s attitude to domestic violence.

In a reversal of its previous position, National supported the bill in the name of Green MP Jan Logie at its first reading in March. It would have passed without National’s support, because Labour, New Zealand First, the Maori Party and Act had already committed to voting for it.

Justice Minister Amy Adams said the bill “needed work”, and did not commit to supporting it into law. But she said it was an issue worth discussing. Prime Minister Bill English has previously said Government was against the proposal, because employers could already offer the specialised leave.

Countdown, the Warehouse Group, ANZ, Vodafone, the University of Auckland already offer family violence leave to their staff.

Deborah Beegling, general manager of HR for Countdown, which has 18,000 staff, appeared before the committee and revealed one of the reasons the policy was introduced in November last year was the suicide of a staff member who had been assaulted by an ex-husband.

“Her colleagues were quite impacted by that. And what made it very real…was her family asked if they could bring her children in to the workplace where their mum worked. So that was almost devastating to the team that worked with her.”

Countdown developed its policy with input from the Warehouse. The policy had not been used inappropriately in the seven months after implementation.

The only concern has been the low levels of staff using the leave. As a result, managers have had training to spot the signs of domestic abuse, and in how to sensitively raise the topic.

Labour MP Poto Williams asked how Countdown dealt with recording who took the leave, and disclosure requirements. Beegling said nothing was recorded on a system or personal files.

“We encourage our store managers, if they have a conversation, is to make some notes and keep it secret, because we know that could be called upon at a point in time.”

Business NZ does not support the law change, saying appropriate provisions are already in place through changes to working arrangements and sick leave, and businesses hiring more less skilled, lower paid workers could bear disproportionately more costs.

“Sick leave already encompasses…the consequences of domestic violence,” the written submission states. “It is through education and empathy that the greatest good will be found. Neither of these can be legislated for effectively.”

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