PAPUA New Guinea’s Bank of the South Pacific is looking to introduce a domestic violence policy covering PNG and all regional branches after a company survey at BSP Solomon Islands showed 92 percent of all 260 staff believe their colleagues are affected by violence at home.
The policy will cover thousands of employees in Papua New Guinea branches and Pacific banks in the Cook Islands, Samoa, Vanuatu and Tonga.
Given the prevalence of gender based violence in the Solomons, “It was no surprise to us that some thought it was (affecting colleagues and their work) but the 92 [percent] result was practically everyone, and that’s a serious impact for the livelihood of all staff and the business as a whole,” says BSP Solomons CEO David Anderson.
He was amongst presenters at the launch of a Women at Work (Waka Mere) progress report in Honiara this week as Pacific delegates attending annual regional Labour Mobility meeting in the Solomons for 2018 have also raised the need to address gender dimensions around sending seasonal workers to Australia and New Zealand. The Waka Mere initiative aims to help businesses tackle gender inequality and domestic violence impacts in the workplace.
The Waka Mere project takes it cue from World Bank partnerships aimed at mainstreaming gender into businesses, with reports from HR managers and employee surveys across 15 companies employing more than 6,000 workers in the Solomons.
While the overall results of all employees surveyed showed 75% agreed domestic violence was affecting the ability of some colleagues to come to work or perform at their best, the BSP Solomon’s 92 percent finding was “a huge surprise” for Anderson and his HR team.
The BSP Solomons CEO says the other surprise came when the team looked to BSP head office in PNG to adapt a policy for the Solomon Islands context, and found the organisation didn’t have one – hence the move to roll out a comprehensive policy for all BSP countries.
While the bank is the only one of the large companies surveyed so far to have equality in terms of numbers of women at work- almost 50-50, the Waka Mere initiative has sparked a ‘game-changing’ wave of awareness amongst all staff on the less visible nature of abuse at home, says Anderson.
“Go back 12 months, and if you asked our staff about domestic violence they would say it’s just physical and hitting, and that’s what they thought. Then, to talk to them about domestic violence also being verbal, and about intimidation– that if you don’t do this, this is the conserquence….staff were very surprised to learn these were also considered domestic violence– it’s been very helpful.”
After sharing to the launch how the bank has assisted in a few cases, Anderson says providing staff with awareness on recognising, reporting and accessing help is part of helping out.
“We can only do so much. We are not trained to be experts or advisors in domestic violence, and all we are trained to do and can do, is support staff, tell them what they can do and point them to a number of organisations in the Solomon Islands who can assist,” says Anderson.
In his presentation at the launch he pointed out several cases where the bank had supported staff through their choices to ensure their safety,
The cost of going that extra mile is not the issue, he says.
“It’s not a matter of what it will cost. It’s a matter of getting it right for the staff. If I go back to the 92 percent who said they believe staff were impacted by Domestic violence, that’s a cost to the bank because they are not working to their maximum capacity so assisting the staff to resolve this issue will resolve their private life and hopefully the staff will be a more productive member and of more use to the organisation.”
Solomon Islands Chamber of Commerce executives Dennis Meone and incoming CEO Atenasi Ata have welcomed the progress report and are keen to expand it beyond the 15 pioneers featured to the full membership of more than 220 chamber members.
Ata challenged employers to picture the improved productivity when both men and women are valued equally in the workplace– “supported by systems and processes that are more nuanced to the Solomon Islands reality, this is the unrealised potential for human resource and therefore for business that SICCI emphasizes through Waka Mere.”
She says the project is showing how the private sector “is in perfect step with Government” legislation and policy aimed at ending gender violence in the country.
By Lisa Williams