Sandra Kirkham, Chair of Wirral Chamber of Commerce

BUSINESS leaders are being urged to unite to support the “silent workforce” who are victims of domestic abuse.

Sandra Kirkham, Chair of Wirral Chamber of Commerce, has called on businesses throughout the borough to collectively become responsible for tackling a problem that many employees are afraid to bring out into the open.

Speaking at a major conference to launch a new code in the fight against domestic abuse, Sandra, who is also Managing Director of Progress to Excellence Group, said: “Employers across Wirral have a duty of care to their employees as well as a legal responsibility to provide a safe work environment.

“Many people affected by domestic abuse don’t feel able to talk openly to their employers and colleagues about what’s going on in their lives.

“Fortunately, awareness and understanding of domestic abuse has increased and it’s only right that industry leaders now have policies in place that show they are supportive and able to act positively to put victims’ health and wellbeing high on their company agenda. They also need to send out a forceful message that such abuse will not be tolerated.”

The conference at The Floral Pavilion, New Brighton, attended by businesses and community groups, launched a new Zero Tolerance to Domestic Abuse Business Quality Mark along with a new website designed as a “one stop shop” for information and resources on domestic violence in Wirral.

Businesses and organisations can apply for the quality mark and receive free training to enable them to help support their employees.

Conference organisers from Wirral Council told delegates that, even with limited resources, businesses can take steps to address the effects of domestic violence in the workplace and, with awareness of the problem, signpost colleagues to local specialist support.

The cost of domestic abuse to UK business is estimated at £1.9 billion a year due to decreased productivity, time off work, lost wages and sick pay. Analysts have shown it can potentially have an adverse impact on staff morale as well as on a company’s image and reputation.

An estimated 1.9 million adults throughout the country – men and women aged 16 to 59 – have experienced domestic abuse in the past year.

In Wirral the number of incidents of domestic abuse reported to Merseyside Police in July 2017 was more than 550 and rose to more than 700 in July this year. The increase in reports was due in part to awareness-raising of the issue by groups including Wirral Domestic Abuse Alliance.

Already Wirral Council has announced a review to its Domestic Abuse Policy that plans to ensure all council employees who are victims of domestic abuse and/or harmful practices are entitled to a minimum of a week’s special leave, at full pay, to ensure they have time to deal with the consequences of their situation.

Cllr Paul Stuart, Cabinet Member for Law and Order and Chair of Wirral Domestic Abuse Alliance, told the conference he was now looking for all-party support in a call for government legislation for paid leave for victims.

He said: “We want to lead by example and hope other businesses will follow suit in support of their employees.

“Several Wirral businesses have now signed up for the quality mark and are leading the way forward for others. While it’s saddening that this quality mark is needed, I’m overjoyed at the response so far and hope that other areas can follow the example set in Wirral.

“We are pleased to have Progress to Excellence Group and Wirral Chamber of Commerce on board supporting this new initiative. I hope, with this new training, we can start to see a turning of the tide for survivors of domestic abuse.”

Sandra Kirkham, whose Progress to Excellence Group has signed up for the new code, added: “The Zero Tolerance to Domestic Abuse business quality mark will ensure that staff feel supported and confident in approaching their employers for help and will ultimately improve the work environment by minimising stress and absenteeism. It will also assist people who may be aware that a colleague is a victim of abuse but doesn’t know how to help.

“The conference in Wirral has been a major breakthrough in tackling the problem of domestic abuse and is the catalyst required to jump-start our businesses into action for the overall benefit of our community.” 

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