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Executive Director of the Jamaica Employers’ Federation (JEF), Jacqueline Coke-Lloyd, has charged corporate Jamaica to move to address HIV/AIDS-related stigma and discrimination in the workplace.
Mrs. Coke-Lloyd’s appeal came against the results of a corporate survey report on HIV/AIDS in the workplace, which found that of the 23 companies that completed written surveys, only 39 per cent reported having HIV/AIDS-specific policies for applicants and employees.
“If we don’t manage this issue, if we don’t invest in policy development, if we don’t invest in counselling, we may have something on our hands that we won’t be able to manage and we might not have workplaces for much longer,” she stated.
According to the report, which was launched at the Jamaica Pegasus Hotel in Kingston yesterday (March 16), more than 20 per cent of the 14 companies without HIV/AIDS-specific policies said that HIV-positive applicants would be denied employment.
However, several respondents from companies without a HIV/AIDs policy stated that while a policy had not been adopted, they had drafted or were in the process of drafting such a policy.
Abner Mason, Executive Director of the AIDS Responsibility Project (ARP), one of the non-government groups, which carried out the survey, informed that the actual number of HIV-positive employees at the 23 surveyed companies might be as many as four to eight times larger than was known by the companies.
Meanwhile, 83 per cent of companies reported routine medical screening of applicants and employees, which they justified on the basis that it helped to assess employees’ capability to do physically strenuous jobs, or establish medical benefit coverage. Of the 19 companies that conduct routine medical screening, over 30 per cent or six companies admitted that these screenings include testing for HIV. Fifty per cent of companies said they had systems in place for reporting violations of confidentiality policy. The report further stated that of the 23 companies surveyed and 14 management interviews conducted, 62 per cent have no HIV-specific employment policies; 13 per cent said they would not hire an HIV-positive employee; 96 per cent have confidentiality policies covering HIV status, but only half have any enforcement procedures in place, while 100 percent reported that they would not fire an employee on the basis of HIV.
The survey, which was co-funded by the United States Agency for International Development (UASID) and Merck Sharpe and Dohme, provides baseline information on the status of HIV/AIDS efforts in Jamaican workplaces and to propose a framework for an effective business response strategy.
The information was collected through a survey questionnaire, as well as face-to-face meetings and telephone interviews with middle and senior management.
According to Mr. Mason, “the private sector response to the survey data is intended to serve as the foundation for establishing a national HIV/AIDS business council, which unites companies in a public commitment to reduce stigma and discrimination in their own workplaces.”
This body would ideally be formed and governed by its member companies with the JEF as its secretariat.
Over the next couple of weeks up to May, ARP and Futures Group, which is the other non-governmental organization conducting the survey, will visit some 70 organizations to collect more information.