Montreal group urging unions, employers ‘to be allied with us against domestic violence’

Chantal Arseneault, chairperson of the Association of Shelters for Women Victims of Conjugal Violence, speaks to reporters during a launch of the 12 Days of Action Against Violence Against Women, in Montreal, Saturday, Nov. 30, 2019. (Global News)

Domestic violence impacts not only the victims, but also their workplaces.

That’s the message the Association of Shelters for Women Victims of Conjugal Violence wants to send to employers as it launched this year’s 12 Days of Action Against Violence Against Women campaign on Saturday.

“We want to bring unions and employers to be allied with us against domestic violence,” spokesperson Louise Riendeau told Global News. “We want them to be active to support victims of domestic violence in the workplace.

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Her organization is pushing unions and companies to implement measures in the workplace to support female employees who have experienced domestic abuse. She noted that often, the violence follows the victim to the workplace.

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“Some perpetrators call many times a day,” she explained. “They send emails and text messages to make sure the woman is really at work; some may harass her in the parking lot or even harass colleagues who try to help her.”

The consequences, she pointed out, can include having the employees arriving late to work, not being as productive or even having others pick up the slack for that employee.

That, she pointed out, can cost the employer, too.

“We know that in Canada, employers lose $78 million each year because of the impact of domestic violence,” she said. “I think it’s a real issue for employers.”

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What employers can do, she suggested, is to create policies and an environment that say the company is supportive of victims. She noted that those who have experienced abuse are sometimes more comfortable speaking with a colleague than professionals.

“So those colleagues in the workplace are links between victims and shelters, for example,” she pointed out.

Manon Camiré, a discussion leader with UNIFOR, agrees.

She said having someone in the workplace designated as a women’s advocate can help. Camiré trains such advocates.

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She said they help the women find the right resources where they can get help, as well as making sure that the workplace is safe.

“For example, where’s the parking lot? Is it safe? Where are the women seated in the workplace? What about shift schedule? Sometimes changing a person’s shift schedule can save their life,” she said.

Something else the advocate can be, she added, is a buffer between co-workers, including supervisors, and victims.

“Sometimes workers will not understand why a worker isn’t being as productive as they normally are,” Camiré said, “and they can become targets of bullying in their own workplace.”

She said within her union there are almost 400 women’s advocates in workplaces across the country, including 15 in Quebec, but now they are training others in this province.


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