By Funmi Komolafe
This edition details the duties of the employer and the employee in handling people living with HIV/ AIDS as stated in the new international standards adopted at the 99th International Labour Conference, held in Geneva, Switzerland.
“NOTING that HIV and AIDS have a serious impact on society and economies, on the world of work in both the formal and informal sectors, on workers, their families and dependants, on the employers’ and workers’ organizations and on public and private enterprises, and undermine the attainment of decent work and sustainable development and
Noting that high levels of social and economic inequality, lack of information and awareness, lack of confidentiality and insufficient access to and adherence to treatment, increase the risk of HIV transmission, mortality levels, the number of children who have lost one or both parents and the number of workers engaged in informal work and Considering that poverty, social and economic inequality and unemployment increase the risk of lack of access to prevention, treatment, care and support, therefore increasing the risk and transmission ….etc”.
These words summarize reasons for the adoption of new international labour standards on HIV and AIDS in the work place.
As adopted by the ILC, the scope to be covered by this recommendation endorsed by Nigeria and 438 other countries is clearly spelt out.
It states, “All workers working under all forms or arrangements, and at all workplaces including: persons in any employment or occupation; those in training, including interns and apprentices; volunteers; job seekers and job applicants; and laid -off and suspended workers; all sectors of economic activity, including the private and public sectors and the formal and informal economies; and armed forced and uni formed services”.
For all countries, the ILO spelt out general principles which recommends that “ workers, their families and their dependants should have access to and benefit from prevention, treatment, care and support in relation to HIV/AIDS and the workplace should play a role in facilitating access to these services, workers should benefit from programmes to prevent specific risks of occupational transmission of HIV and related transmissible diseases, such as tuberculosis; workers’ participation and engagement in the design, implementation and evaluation of national and workplace programmes should be recognized and reinforced”.
Apart from these, it adds that “no worker should be required to undertake an HIV test or disclose their HIV status”. Also “ measures to address HIV and AIDS in the world of work should be part of national development policies and programmes, including those related to labour, education, social protection and health and the protection of workers in occupations that are particularly exposed to the risk of HIV transmission”.
National policy, whose duty? “The national policies and programmes should be developed by the competent authorities , in consultation with the most representative organizations of employers and workers , as well as organizations representing people living with HIV, taking into account the views of relevant sectors, especially the health sector”.
Work place responsibilities
A national policy must have include measures to reduce the transmission of HIV and alleviate its impact.
Such measures include, “ensuring respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, ensuring gender equality and the empowerment of women, promoting the active participation of both women and men in the response to HIV and AIDS; promoting the protection of sexual and reproductive health and sexual and reproductive rights of women and men and ensuring the effective confidentiality of personal data including medical data”
On a broad note, the recommendation stated that “Prevention strategies should be adapted to national conditions and the type of workplace , and should take into account gender, cultural, social and economic concerns”.
Prevention programmes, as stated in the new guidelines should ensure “effective occupational safety and health measures, that is accurate, up to date, relevant and timely information is made available and accessible to all in a culturally sensitive format and language through the different channels of communication available, measures to encourage workers to know their own HIV status through voluntary counselling and testing etc.
Privacy and Confidentiality is another aspect of the new international standards.
It states “testing must be genuinely voluntary and free of any coercion and testing programmes must respect international guidelines on confidentiality, counselling and consent”.
Also, “HIV testing or other forms of screening for HIV should not be required of workers, including migrant workers, job seekers and job applicants”.
Equally important is that “the results of HIV testing should be confidential and not endanger access to jobs, tenure, job security or opportunities for advancement”.
For migrant workers, it states among others that , “Migrant workers or those seeking to migrate for employment, should not be excluded from migration by the countries of origin, of transit or of destination on the basis of their real or perceived HIV status”.
Occupational health and safety –
In professions or workplaces where there are possibilities of exposure to HIV at work, the ILO suggests that “ workers should receive education and training on modes of transmission and measures to prevent exposure and infection. Members should take measures to ensure that prevention , safety and health are provided for in accordance with relevant standards”.
Also “awareness raising measures should emphasize that HIV is transmitted by casual physical contact and that the presence of a person living with HIV should not be considered a workplace hazard”.
To make this effective in Nigeria, a lot still needs to be done to create awareness. Many employees have had their appointments terminated by employers simply because they were confirmed HIV positive.