The Ministry of Labour and Social Security (MLSS) has launched an HIV in the Workplace Public Education campaign, aimed at sensitising employers of the need to adopt policies on HIV and AIDS.
The initiative being undertaken by the Occupational HIV Unit in the Ministry’s Safety and Health Department, falls under the United States President’s Emergency Plan For AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), being implemented by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).
In his address at the launch held on July 3 at the Mona Visitor’s Lodge and Conference Centre in St. Andrew, portfolio Minister, Hon. Derrick Kellier said HIV/AIDS is an important workplace issue and impacts significantly on production and national development.
He said there are increased costs on companies through decline in productivity, increased labour costs and expenses, costly treatments and loss of skills and experience.
He pointed out that the most critical segment of the workforce (15-49 years) is most at risk for contracting HIV, and with a prevalence rate of 1.7 per cent, with two of every 100 persons infected, it is important for the country to respond seriously and urgently to the epidemic.
“It is necessary for all sectors to respond appropriately to HIV and AIDS in the workplace, and put policies and programmes in place,” he stated.
He said the MLSS is leading the national response through a rights-based approach aimed at reducing HIV-related stigma and discrimination.
He informed that the national HIV/AIDS Workplace Policy, which was developed in 2007, will inform regulations to be appended to the proposed Occupational Safety and Health Act, which is being implemented to address health and safety concerns in the workplace.
The Minister therefore gave the undertaking that the country should have an Occupational Safety and Health Act by the end of the current financial year.
Meanwhile, he said the Ministry continues to be proactive with its voluntary compliance programme, encouraging employers to provide safe work environments in order to reduce stigma and discrimination. “Companies are also being urged to implement educational and training programmes that can contribute to behaviour change,” he said.
In her address, Mission Director, USAID, Denise Herbol said stigma and discrimination continues to drive the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Jamaica, and that the partnership between the USAID and Jamaica, along with other donors, multilateral organizations, non-profit groups, and people living with HIV, work to make positive resource and programmatic investments to save lives, which otherwise may be lost to the disease.
“Through PEPFAR, we are working with Jamaica to address the negative impacts of stigma and discrimination, creating equal access of quality care and services for those living with HIV. A partnership with the Ministry of Labour in addressing and combating stigma is critical,” she stated, noting that activities include strengthening the voluntary compliance programme in the private sector.
By Alphea Saunders, JIS Senior Reporter