Domestic violence is increasingly recognised as an issue that impacts not only individuals and families, but also communities and society as a whole. When workers are involved in or affected by domestic violence, its impacts resonate in the workplace – affecting employment, productivity, and health and safety.

Women are at a higher risk of losing their job when they are facing domestic violence, as it can directly impact on their work, which further compounds their vulnerability. In some cases, domestic violence can follow them to work. It enters the workplace in a range of ways – from harassment and violence happening at work (by co-workers or external perpetrators), stress on co-workers, to death in the workplace for workers and others.

“Living with abuse at home is so terrifying. But when I became viewed as a bad employee and (my) job changed, then I had to leave and move away, nothing in (my) life felt safe anymore.” – Woman worker facing domestic violence

On the other hand, being employed is a key pathway to leaving a violent relationship. The financial security that employment affords can allow women to escape the isolation of an abusive relationship, and maintain, as far as possible, their home and standard of living, both for themselves, and their children. The workplace provides positive opportunities to disrupt domestic violence, keep women safe and support them to live lives free of violence.

Domestic violence also has a significant economic cost to work, as established by the outcomes of national studies on domestic violence at work conducted in 10 countries globally

“I was thinking about the relationship. I didn’t have my mind on what I was doing driving an 18000-pound forklift. I spilled one of the bumps of lumber and it broke open. I had to do a lot more work to put it back (and) wasted (a lot of) time.” – Male worker engaging in domestic violence 

National domestic violence at work studies

Globally, employers and governments for the longest time have not recognized the link between domestic violence and the workplace.

However, labour unions have been playing an important role in breaking the culture of silence. Since 2011, 10 countries around the world, including countries in South Asia, have conducted large–scale national studies on domestic violence in the workplace.

These national studies have revealed consistent outcomes, and the results show the  impacts of domestic violence in the workplace. The studies conducted in these countries have been catalysts for policy reforms.

Why unions are conducting a national study in India

The transport unions in India have recognised the need and potential for advocacy work on the issue of domestic violence and setting employer accountability to address the impacts, however, there is a lack of evidence and data in India on this issue.  The national study being conducted by transport unions, which was launched in November 2019, is the first study in India that will highlight the links between domestic violence and its impact in the world of work.

If policies are not gender sensitive and inclusive, there is grave danger that levels of domestic violence will worsen and women’s participation in the workforce will decrease. Against a backdrop of worsening violence against women in the country, it’s the apt time to bridge the data gap on domestic violence and its impacts on the workplace and to reform policies.

The new ILO Convention 190 on the elimination of violence and harassment in the world of work recognises domestic violence as a workplace issue – noting that it “can affect employment, productivity and health and safety, and that governments, employers’ and workers’ organisations and labour market institutions can help, as part of other measures, to recognise, respond to and address the impacts of domestic violence.”

The national study will therefore also create a foundation for lobbying the government to ratify ILO Convention 190.

Trade unions in India are calling for support across sectors to conduct this national study, and from the results to shape an advocacy campaign and to lobby the government for legal reforms, including ratification of the ILO Violence and Harassment Convention, 2019 (No. 190).  

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