JIS News

Employees living with HIV/AIDS may soon face less discrimination from employers as a result of the National HIV/AIDS Workplace policy document, which is being prepared for tabling in Parliament.The policy document is aimed at sensitizing and educating employers on the issues relating to the disease. In addition, the Ministry of Health’s National HIV/STD Control Programme has implemented two national and five sector policies. Policy Advocate and Technical Officer with the National HIV/STD Control programme, Faith Hamer informs JIS News that the National HIV/AIDS workplace policy document under the Ministry of Labour and Social Security, one of five line Ministries involved, is based on 10 key principles for the workplace. Firstly, she notes that, “there should be no discrimination in terms of perceived or real HIV status”. Another key principle deals with gender equality, healthy work environment, and social dialogues which means developing an environment for trust and dialogue on the issue among management and employees.
It also deals with the fact that there is no justification for HIV/AIDS screening for the purposes of exclusion from employment or work processes. The policy further addresses confidentiality, continuation of employment relationship, prevention, care, and support.
The purpose of the workplace policy, she says, is to provide a supportive framework to ensure that the legal framework for HIV/AIDS as a workplace issue is strengthened.
It also aims at contributing to the reduction of HIV transmission at the work site and to the reduction of HIV/AIDS related stigma and discrimination through continuous education, training and involvement of persons living with HIV/AIDS.
“The workplace policy will further strengthen the capabilities of organizations to provide prevention skills and access to treatment care and support, and to manage and mitigate the impact of HIV/AIDS in the workplace,” Ms .Hamer informs.
The five ministries that have been involved in implementing the National HIV/AIDS programme from as early as 2001 are: Industry and Tourism, National Security, Education, Youth and Culture, Local Government, Community Development and Sport, and Labour and Social Security. Each of these Ministries have developed a sector approach to policies, Ms. Hamer explains.
As it regards the two national policies Ms. Hamer discloses, the National HIV/AIDS policy has been approved by the Human Resources Council and it is slated to be tabled in Parliament shortly. “In the meantime we are conducting public consultation on the policy to get wide stakeholder approval,” she said. Public consultation and a mass media campaign is to be launched later this year, and will assist in sensitizing the public about HIV/AIDS in the workplace. Ms. Hamer explains that the mass media campaign is simply a supportive tool to let people know that a policy exists and that the workplace is an ideal place for dealing with HIV/AIDS issues.
For those employers who continue to discriminate, Ms. Hamer says there will be nothing in the policy to address taking action against such employers. This issue she says will have to be dealt with in the legislation.
“What the policy is doing is paving the way for appropriate legislation. It will give the appropriate framework and guideline so that employers can be educated that there is simply no justification for stigmatizing any worker who is living with HIV/AIDS or perceived to be living with HIV/AIDS,” she says.
For further acceptance of the clauses and the guidelines on which the policy is based, she emphasizes that persons have to be sensitized to HIV/AIDS to understand how it is transmitted and how it is prevented.
“You cannot get HIV during casual contact or by close interaction with someone living with HIV/AIDS and so there is no justification for stigmatization and because of the incubation period of the HIV virus itself a person can be living with it for 10 or more years before manifesting any signs of illness,” she says.
With the increased access to anti-retroviral treatment, she stresses that even persons living with AIDS can still be able to perform duties at the workplace.
“In other words the policy is directing people’s attention that there is no justification to disallow someone from working because that person is perceived to be HIV infected,” she explains.
The policy alone, she says, cannot achieve some of these objectives. “What is important is sensitization about the policy issues and in the next six months or so we will be involved in further consultations as well as the mass media campaign and supportive material to reinforce the fact that HIV can be prevented and there is no need to stigmatise somebody known to be living with HIV,” Ms. Hamer points out.
She further explains that the Ministries are looking at the policies in terms of their respective sector. “For instance the Ministry of Education will be targeting persons through the formal education system and a lot of the people who fall within that sector will be the younger population. The Tourism Ministry targets people who are involved in the tourism industries and within that industry we have formal as well as informal workers, so in other words the tailoring of the policy document is just to enable the persons in the various sectors to be able to target the people in their sector in the most appropriate way,” she informs.
While the policy is yet to be approved, Ms. Hamer says public knowledge is being increased so that once the document is approved at least members of the public would have been involved. She says the next stage would be to look at the laws to see which laws support the policies or which laws may have to be reviewed or amended to support the policy issues.
Ms. Hamer says that in the event that employers continued to discriminate against employees, then what will be done is to educate the employers in understanding the policy and the 10 principles on which it was based.
Ms. Hamer notes that the National HIV/STI Programme works along with several other partners in achieving this, including as the Jamaica Employers Federation, the Jamaica Confederation of Trade Unions, the National AIDS Committee and other non-governmental organizations such as the Jamaica AIDS support and the Jamaica Network of Seropositives.
“There are a number of interventions currently happening right now by different sectors. For example each of the five line Ministries have been given a mandate to implement interventions on their own initiatives and it varies,” she informs.
The Technical Officer adds, “our interventions are based on indicators. For instance you may have an indicator which says we need to have improved prevention knowledge and skill leading to behaviour change so the intervention would be based on that,” she says.
Some organization Ms. Hamer notes will need workshops to train workers in various categories, such as management, as individuals to act as change agents, trainers and peer educators. In the case of the programme being done through National Security, that intervention, she explains, may be in terms of targeting the incarcerated population through a cultural approach.
Because there are no laws to prevent discrimination by employers, Ms. Hamer says if a case of discrimination is highlighted, the National HIV/STD Control programme ensures that education is provided on how HIV is transmitted.
“We do this in terms of a didactic approach but actually engaging the various targets in interactive sessions and it is in some of these sessions that people realize that it is really ludicrous to be barring someone from school or the workplace because of their status because you cannot catch HIV through casual contact,” she stated.