JIS News

Story Highlights

  • The Policy is a framework of action by the government, employers and workers to effectively treat with employees in the workplace infected with HIV and AIDS.
  • The OSH Act is intended to legislate compulsory provision of healthy and safe workplace environments for employees by their employers.
  • The Minister said statistics on persons in Jamaica currently living with HIV/AIDS show that approximately 43 per cent of those affected are living longer.

Health Minister, Hon. Dr. Fenton Ferguson, has welcomed work undertaken by the Ministry of Labour and Social Security to advance development of Jamaica’s National Workplace Policy on HIV and AIDS, and to pilot a Bill on the proposed Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Act.

The Policy, approved as a White Paper by both Houses of Parliament earlier this year, is a framework of action by the government, employers and workers to effectively treat with employees in the workplace infected with HIV and AIDS.

It is expected to: assist in developing a caring, supportive, and responsible working environment that will protect all workers; reduce HIV and AIDS related stigma and discrimination; and assist in reducing HIV and AIDS transmission. The White Paper is intended to inform regulations on HIV/AIDS to be appended to the OSH Act, when the Bill is passed.

The OSH Act, which is being targeted for passage before the conclusion of the 2013/14 parliamentary year in March 2014, is intended to legislate compulsory provision of healthy and safe workplace environments for employees by their employers.

As a precursor to this, a National OSH Profile has been developed for Jamaica, which is deemed essential in steps toward instituting the country’s National Occupational Safety and Health Programme.

The profile is an inventory of all the tools and resources Jamaica has at its disposal, to implement and manage occupational safety and health. It is designed to provide all the requisite data for setting national priorities for action aimed at the progressive and continued improvement of workplace safety and health.

The provisions of both documents are consistent with the government’s job creation and growth strategy focusing on enhancing functional and harmonious relations between the State, labour, capital and civil society.

Both documents were formally unveiled by Labour and Social Security Minister, Hon. Derrick Kellier, during a recent ceremony at the Jamaica Pegasus Hotel, New Kingston.

Speaking with JIS News following the launch, Dr. Ferguson described the HIV/AIDS Workplace Policy as a “significant policy” of the government, noting that he was part of the Parliamentary Committee that deliberated on the Green Paper.

“I am very happy to see that we now have a White Paper. This policy will be important to Jamaica in relation to how we treat with persons (in the workplace) living with HIV and AIDS. It is part of an overall strategy dealing with stigma and discrimination,” Dr. Ferguson said, while commending Minister Kellier and other stakeholders for advancing work on the policy over the years.

The Minister said statistics on persons in Jamaica currently living with HIV/AIDS show that approximately 43 per cent of those affected are living longer; that the overall prevalence is now 1.7 per cent; and that mother to child transmissions are down to less than five per cent.

“This gain, over the past decade, is a tribute to those persons who have been working assiduously, and the fact that (successive) administrations have had a common outlook and support for HIV/AIDS, and we are extremely grateful (for this),” Dr. Ferguson added.

Dr. Ferguson said that as the policy unfolds and the public education programme is rolled out, employers will become more cognizant of the rights of workers with HIV/AIDS, and that they and members of the public interacting with affected persons, “will to come to recognize that with persons now using anti-retroviral drugs, they can live their lives like anyone else, once they exercise due care.”

The Minister also acknowledged the work and inputs of several international partners in advancing Jamaica’s programme to address HIV and AIDS, especially in the workplace. These include: the United States President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR); Global Fund; and the World Bank.

Dr. Ferguson, however, pointed to challenges dealing with HIV/AIDS going forward in relation to high risk groups, such as males engaged in same sex relations, with a prevalence rate of 32 per cent, and sex workers – five per cent.

“This is why we want to (ensure quality) health for all, to ensure that our prevalence rate will go further down and that the wider society will recognize that irrespective of sexual orientation, the right to care and the right to health care is a fundamental human right that all of us must be aware of. I believe that as we go forward, Jamaica, over time, will become a leader in terms of best practice, in this regard,” the Minister said.

In relation to the proposed Occupational Safety and Health Act, Dr. Ferguson pointed out that the legislation will continue to strengthen the rights and entitlement of employees to a safe and healthy working environment, without discrimination.