Friday, 18 June 2010

Success at ILO on workplace HIV and Aids

[By Lucia van Westerlaak] – The ILO recommends that governments make a greater effort to protect workers from HIV and Aids. The FNV participated in the negotiations to have good measures included. And especially, to reach all concerned. The FNV calls on the Dutch government to sign the ILO recommendation as soon as possible.
At the annual International Labour Conference of the ILO on 10 June, delegations of workers, employers and governments have reached an agreement on a recommendation on HIV and Aids at the workplace.
The recommendation specifies how workers, employers and governments can counter the spread of the HIV virus. The recommendation applies to workers, but also to students on work placements, agency workers, the self-employed and people who work in the so-called informal economy. The recommendation states that good information on how the virus spreads must be available and that instruments for prevention should be available at workplaces if necessary. Governments should see to it that adequate medical services are available and accessible – also in regard to the prices of cures. The recommendation emphatically indicates that equal rights and opportunities for women are a precondition for effectively combating the spread of the virus. Tests can only be applied on a voluntary basis. A number of governments wanted to include in the recommendation that tests may be obligatory for certain jobs, but they did not get their way. Many UN treaties prohibit obligatory testing, for it only creates an illusion of being (temporarily) free from the HIV virus in a company or profession.
If someone is HIV positive and receives proper treatment, this will have no impact whatsoever on his or her performance at work. In the Netherlands, there have been instances of company doctors unsolicitedly informing employers of their employees’ HIV status. Also, fixed-term contracts may not be renewed when the employees’ HIV status becomes known. The Dutch HIV Association receives some 150 complaints on this type of cases per year.
The recommendation requires frequent reporting, also on individual cases and on measures to be taken in order to improve the situation. Social partners will get in touch with HIV / Aids organisations to discuss how they can contribute to the implementation of the recommendation. In the Netherlands a lot needs to be done as well, and the FNV is committed to playing a role in this.
In other parts of the world, other issues are more urgent. There, over half the working population may be infected. Nevertheless, the taboo on addressing HIV and Aids related problems is often greater in large parts of Africa, Asia and Eastern Europe than in the Netherlands. As a result, people are often not (sufficiently) aware of the way in which the virus spreads. Cures are often overly expensive. Specific groups cannot be identified because of religious or cultural taboos. Many of these and other problems to be solved are properly addressed in the recommendation.
The FNV has done a lot of work to get the recommendation approved in the right wording. In many cases, representatives of the Dutch government and employers acted in unison. This also applied to the following issue. Groups with a specific incidence of the virus have been described as ‘most at risk groups’ and are not specified: drugs users who inject, sex workers and men who have sex with men. At the initiative of the FNV, the employees suggested specifying these groups, but governments and employers did not adopt this proposal. In an impressive speech delivered in the presence of employers and governments, workers’ chairman Jan Sithole from Swaziland indicated that denying the existence of these groups will have a negative impact on the effectiveness of efforts to counter the spread of the virus. These words will be included in the report and the FNV hopes they will have an influence on future debates at the ILO level. A strong resolution text that sees to implementation was added to the recommendation. In week 24, the plenary ILO meeting will decide on the text. The recommendation will be presented to the Dutch government for ratification.

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