Intervention during the Thematic Segment on Non-Discrimination of the 31st UNAIDS Programme Coordinating Board
The trade union movement considers stigma and discrimination to be a key problem that affects people living with HIV and a key obstacle to effective prevention treatment and care.
Each of us has a role to play in ensuring that HIV status is not barrier to universal human aspiration to dignity. And the central means to assuring this is to have a decent job – with income, rights, voice and social protection.
Although HIV cannot be cured, it can be effectively treated. This means that 34 mln people living with HIV (out of whom, let us not forget, 46% still do not have access to live saving treatment) can and should continue to live productive, fulfilling lives with full access to employment, promotion, social protection and reasonable accomodation.
Instead, we know that at least half of PLHIV report workplace stigma and discrimination including loss of employment, mandatory employment related HIV testing is allowed in many countries leaving decision to the discretion of each employer and worldwide 75% of world population has no access to adequate social protection (2011 Bachelet report).
The global crisis has squeezed the world of work even further, producing job losses and increased vulnerability and threatening the gains that have been made. There are 30 mln more jobless people in the world today than there were when the crisis hit. Health, education, social protection are under pressure. Young people constitute 40% of global new HIV infections and over 40% of the global unemployment.
Having a job with no discrimination address many of underlying vulnerabilities to HIV – because it reduces poverty and inequality, empowers women and young men and provides youth with more stable and productive options for the future.
We need to have mutually reinforcing workplace interventions, policies and actions centred on the diversity of entitlements including jobs and income.
Eg. Southern African Clothing and Textile Workers’ Union (SACTWU) runs its comprehensive worker health program with – yearly – 131 673 workers educated on HIV; 740 shop stewards trained on HIV related topics including OSH, 558 members and dependants initiated onto ART, 6122 home based care visits per year. Why this program is succesful? When unions organize services, workers have trust that their rights are protected. When unions organize services, they understand workplace – eg: SACTWU is the only program in SA that operates outside working hours (no need to take day off work and no loss of earnings).
We need to end employment related discrimination once for all. This includes migrant workers and HIV related travel restrictions.
Eg. Middle East is one of the regions with the highest labour mobility in the world (28,8 mln migrant workes in 2010, an increase of 4,5, mln since 2005, migrant labour dependency around 90-95% of the total labour force) with prevalent multiple discriminatory HIV related laws, including laws allowing for deportation of any HIV positive non-citizen and no recourse to contest deportation even for people legally residing in these countries, no prohibition of forced medical testing, no safeguards in place for informed consent and of confidentiality of test results of persons that have been tested for HIV;
This year South African trade unions, joined by global trade union movement supported protest against a humiliating detention, dismissal and deportation of a South African employee of Al Jazeera English Online in Qatar who lost his job solely on the basis of his HIV status.
We need need business to be urged to initiate effective workplace anti-discriminantion policies
Eg. In March 2012 Mineral Resources Minister of South Africa announced that mining companies, whose HIV, TB and workplace safety policies are being audited by her department, will have to submit their policies as a prerequisite for renewing their mining licenses. That means that the employer is obliged to have HIV policy that protects the rights of HIV positive workers.
We need to have mutually reinforcing policies and actions tackling multiple discrimination:
Eg. ITUC affiliated national trade union centres in Brazil including –Central Unica dos Trabalhadores and Força Sindical are currently developing an action plan against discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation and HIV status , in cooperation with employers, NGOs, UNAIDS and ILO.
Freedom from discrimination which is a fundamental principle and right at work is a basic starting point in getting to zero.