JIS News

Story Highlights

  • With over 30,000 Jamaicans living with Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), and the effects on the productive sector, the Ministry of Labour and Social Security (MLSS) continues to take action to reduce stigma and discrimination in the workplace.
  • Through the National Workplace Policy on HIV and AIDS which is being included in the drafting of the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA), the Ministry is working to ensure that all workers, in all areas of economic activity are protected.
  • Senior Director for Occupational Safety and Health in the Ministry, Robert Chung, speaking with JIS News says the lack of knowledge about HIV and AIDS and the resultant stigma and discrimination has caused disturbances in the working environment.

With over 30,000 Jamaicans living with Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), and the effects on the productive sector, the Ministry of Labour and Social Security (MLSS) continues to take action to reduce stigma and discrimination in the workplace.

Through the National Workplace Policy on HIV and AIDS which is being included in the drafting of the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA), the Ministry is working to ensure that all workers, in all areas of economic activity are protected.

Senior Director for Occupational Safety and Health in the Ministry, Robert Chung, speaking with JIS News says the lack of knowledge about HIV and AIDS and the resultant stigma and discrimination has caused disturbances in the working environment.

“The stigma and discrimination was a problem because the public and the workers did not understand how the virus was transmitted and the people thought that it could be transmitted socially, that is by touching or drinking from the same cup or hugging or kissing,” says Mr. Chung.

He further notes that because some persons are unaware of how to treat with the issue, the infected persons became a social outcasts and this has impacted negatively on the workplace.

The policy, however, seeks to assist in the development of a caring, supportive and responsible working environment and seeks to protect all workers, assist in the reduction of occupational HIV transmission, as well as reduce HIV and AIDS related stigma and discrimination.

The policy framework is guided by 10 principles from the International Labour Organization (ILO). These include: HIV/AIDS as a Workplace Issue; Non-Discrimination; Gender Equality; Healthy Work Environment; Social Dialogue; Non-Screening for purposes of exclusion from employment and work processes; Confidentiality; Continuation of Employment; Prevention of Transmission; and Care and Support.

Essential to the success of the policy is the tripartite approach by the Ministry which represents the Government; the Jamaica Employers’ Federation which represents the employers and the Jamaica Confederation of Trade Unions, representing the workers.

Permanent Secretary in the Ministry, Colette Roberts Risden says “the tripartite group is a very important effort …by the government as it relates to good labour relations and industrial practises.”

This, Mrs. Roberts Risden says, is vital as Jamaica is signatory to several international conventions that stipulate a tripartite approach when implementing labour policies.

Acting Senior Legal Officer at MLSS, Khadrea Folkes, notes that the Ministry has been working assiduously to eliminate discrimination in the workplace.

“Key to our response is to encourage, the workforce and the population not to discriminate against persons infected and affected by HIV/ AIDS. By discrimination we include access to occupational health schemes, and so a worker is not to be required to undergo mandatory testing to access group health insurance for instance,” she highlights.

Another strategy that the MLSS has used is by partnering with entities, through its Voluntary Compliance Programme (VCP). This is where companies are periodically assessed to ensure they demonstrate awareness of HIV and AIDS as a workplace issue, as well as take steps to address other safety health related hazards.

Voluntary Compliance certificates are then awarded to entities that meet the expected requirements. The VCP will be fully implemented when OSH Act is enacted.

As well as receiving support from Ministries, Departments and Agencies, the private sector is also implementing the policy.

Red Stripe and National Commercial Bank (NCB) are a few model companies that have championed the cause of non discrimination of persons with HIV and AIDS in the workplace, through the implementation of the national policy.

Occupational Health Advisor for Red Stripe, Veronica Benain says the company has been a pioneer in introducing the national policy on HIV and AIDS, having introduced the guidelines 15 years ago.

“We adopted sections of the policy from our African brewery and at that time I don’t think it was introduced in Jamaica, so we were one of the benchmark companies for the Ministry of Labour when ILO came to Jamaica to introduce the HIV policy. Our policy speaks to non-discrimination against other employees who may have [the virus], it also speaks to harassment,” she highlights.

Ms. Benain further notes that Red Stripe’s policy addresses disciplinary measures to be taken against employees that “discriminates or harasses” anyone they suspect may be infected with HIV and AIDS.

Meanwhile, Medical Response Officer at NCB, Rosalee Heslop says the bank is committed to the wellbeing of its employees and to ensuring that the rights of its workers are protected.

“We recognize that HIV and AIDS are workplace issues that employees with this life threatening illness will need to continue their work life, without fear of discrimination and stigmatization. In implementing the policy, it provides a framework for the bank to … maintain maximum stability (and) productivity in the workplace, while of course protecting confidentiality, dignity and the rights of anyone who may be HIV positive,” she says.

As part of the soon to be enacted OSH legislation, sanctions will be implemented for entities that fail to recognise the guidelines of the policy.

It is expected that, with the implementation of several strategies in the workplace, that there will be a reduction in HIV and AIDS related stigma and discrimination; improvement in accepted attitudes and behaviour towards persons living with and affected by HIV and AIDS; and a reduction in the spread of HIV as a result of effective workplace policies and programmes.

The aim of the OSH Act will be to foster a safe working environment, while ensuring compliance with an outlined set of rules.