HIV/AIDS and the Workplace

“Nine out of ten people living with HIV and AIDS are of working age – most of those at risk are also working women and men” Juan Somavia, Director General of the ILO, Statement for World AIDS Day 2005.

Nine out of ten persons living with HIV belong to the working age group 15 – 49 years, usually the most productive group in any society. Out of the 33.3 million persons living with HIV in 2009, about 30.8 million were adults. At the level of the infected or affected worker, HIV/AIDS often has an impact on the basic human rights of that worker including the right to work, the right to non-discrimination, the right to health, the right to privacy, the right to education and the right to social security.

At the level of the family, the inability to work or dismissal from work of the HIV positive person results in a loss of personal or family income, exacerbating poverty. Often, the burden on women is increased when they are required to combine care of the ill with productive work to replace loss of income. The need for replacement income may also result in truncated schooling for children and their premature entry into the labour force, with implications for their own development, for the vicious cycle of poverty and for the quality of the human capital of a country.

HIV/AIDS results in increased costs to the employer and decreased productivity through the loss of skilled and experienced workers and consequential recruitment and training of new employees, through increased demand on the company’s medical system and through absenteeism of both ill workers and affected relatives and friends.

Reduced productivity at the level of the firm has a negative impact on a country’s competitiveness and economic growth. Ill workers and impoverished families result in a contracting consumer base and falling demand for goods and services and can further undermine investment and enterprise development. The demands made on the social protection systems and national health services as a result of treatment and care of HIV positive persons often limit the investment capacity and choices of national budgets, inhibiting development agendas.

HIV and AIDS in the Caribbean

UNAIDS 2010 Global Report indicates that 260,000 persons were living with HIV in the Caribbean in 2009. Haiti and the Dominican Republic accounted for 68% of this total with 120,000 and 57,000, respectively.

The 2010 UNGASS reports from many of the Caribbean countries and territories covered by the ILO Office for the Caribbean also revealed that in 2009 there were significant numbers of HIV positive persons. Among these were: Antigua and Barbuda (857), Bahamas (11,507), Barbados (3,600), Belize (5,045), Dominica (350), Grenada (403), Jamaica (27,000), St. Kitts and Nevis (314), St. Lucia (740), and Trinidad and Tobago (20,255). These figures represented country prevalence that ranged from 0.57% in Grenada to 3% in the Bahamas. In the Caribbean, similar to the global trend, the majority of persons living with HIV are persons of working age, that is, between the ages 15-49.

ILO/AIDS: Contributing to the Global Response

ILO formally established its Global Programme on HIV/AIDS, known as ILO/AIDS, in November 2000. Soon after, in June 2001, the ILO Code of Practice on HIV/AIDS and the world of work, developed by a tripartite team of experts from ILO member States, was adopted by the ILO Governing Body. The Code was launched at the UN General Assembly Special Session on HIV/AIDS, New York, June 2001 and it is accepted as the authoritative guide for responding to HIV in the world of work. In October 2001, ILO became a co-sponsor of UNAIDS, the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS which was established in 1996 to expand and coordinate the UN system response to HIV/AIDS. Other partners and cosponsors of UNAIDS are UNHCR, UNICEF, WFP, UNDP, UNFPA, UNODC, UNESCO, WHO and the World Bank.

The ILO Code of Practice on HIV/AIDS and the world of work identifies ten key principles that should be core to any comprehensive workplace strategy to protect the rights at work of infected and affected workers.

The ILO Code: 10 Key Principles
  1. Recognition of HIV/AIDS as a workplace issue
  2. Non-discrimination on the basis of real or perceived HIV status
  3. Gender equality must be an integral consideration in a workplace response
  4. Healthy work environment for all concerned parties
  5. Social dialogue in developing and implementing a workplace strategy
  6. No screening for purposes of exclusion from employment
  7. Confidentiality of HIV-related personal information
  8. Continuation of employment relationship
  9. Prevention strategies in the workplace
  10. Care and support for infected and affected workers

In 2007, ILO’s constituents decided that the time had come to raise the HIV response in the world of work to a different level through the development and adoption of an international labour standard on HIV and AIDS and the world of work, The aim was to ensure optimal utilization of the potential of the workplace in the global, regional and national responses towards universal access to prevention, treatment, care and support.

In June 2010, after two years of in-depth consultation with ILO’s tripartite partners and other key stakeholders, the Recommendation concerning HIV and AIDS and the World of Work, 2010 (No. 200) was adopted at the International Labour Conference in Geneva, Switzerland. Recommendation No. 200 seeks to strengthen the impact of the ILO Code of Practice. The Conference also adopted an accompanying Resolution concerning the promotion and the implementation of the Recommendation on HIV and AIDS and the world of work, 2010

The scope of Recommendation No. 200 incorporates:
  • All workers under all forms or arrangements and at all workplaces
  1. Persons in any employment or occupation
  2. Those in training, including interns, apprentices
  3. Volunteers
  4. Job seekers and job applicants
  5. Laid-off and suspended workers
  • All sectors of economic activities Private & public sectors;
  1. formal & informal economies
  • Armed forces and uniformed services

ILO: Responding in the Caribbean

In the region, the ILO works closely with the Caribbean Community through the Pan Caribbean Partnership Against HIV/AIDS (PANCAP), as well as with the Caribbean Congress of Labour, Caribbean Employers' Confederation, Pan Caribbean Business Coalition, Caribbean Association of Industry and Commerce, UNAIDS, and Ministries of Labour.

ILO accelerated its workplace response in 2003, mainly in partnership with the United States Department of Labor and the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries. Since that time, there have been major national projects in Belize, Guyana, Barbados, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago as well as a fast-track approach to responding in the workplace in several of the countries in the OECS. As a result of these initiatives, several countries, including Belize, Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago have adopted national workplace policies on HIV and AIDS and established sustainable workplace programmes.

Currently, ILO is working with a number of countries in the OECS for the development and implementation of HIV workplace policies and programmes as components of their Decent Work Country Programmes. Additionally, ILO has partnered with the Pan-American Health Organization HIV Caribbean Office (PHCO) to implement workplace responses in the British and Dutch Overseas Countries and Territories. ILO is also a partner to PANCAP in the implementation of the HIV workplace components of the Round 9 regional grant to PANCAP from the Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.