This story was written by the ILO Newsroom For official ILO statements and speeches, please visit our “Statements and Speeches” section.

HIV/AIDS - Universal action now: the role of the workplace

When the 17th International AIDS Conference gets underway in Mexico City on 3 August, it will mark one of the largest gatherings ever held on HIV/AIDS, with more than 20,000 expected to attend. For the ILO, the conference will provide a global platform for intensifying awareness of the vital role of the workplace in addressing a wide range of HIV/AIDS issues. High-level support is being given by the Regional Director for the Americas, Mr. Jean Maninat, who will lead the ILO delegation. ILO Online spoke with Dr. Sophia Kisting, Director of the ILO Programme on HIV/AIDS and the World of Work (ILOAIDS), about the goals and objectives of the ILO at this year’s international conference.

Article | 31 July 2008

ILO Online: HIV/AIDS is now recognized as an important workplace issue. What is the extent of HIV/AIDS in the world of work today?

Dr. Sophia Kisting: Millions of people in the world today with HIV/AIDS are of working age. They are in their productive prime of life while at the same time in the age group most at risk of HIV and most affected by its impact. This has important implications for the goal of decent work, not only in terms of the threats it poses but also in terms of the opportunities to respond. Among the challenges to decent work is the fact that people living with HIV experience discrimination, greater obstacles to entering employment and unfair dismissal. For these reasons workplaces are key entry points for addressing HIV/AIDS issues, including providing information, promoting prevention, fighting discrimination and facilitating access to treatment. And this is why the ILO is a co-sponsor of UNAIDS, the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS.

ILO Online: How does this affect the strategy of the ILO in the fight against HIV/AIDS?

Dr. Sophia Kisting: The ILO combines the setting of standards with practical and effective action at the workplace. This is possible because of the key strategic role of our tripartite partners – ministries of labour and their authorities, and employers and workers – who enable and support our access to the workplace. Building on the tripartite approach to HIV/AIDS globally, the opportunity exists to avoid the worst impacts of AIDS through the combination of decent work goals with HIV/AIDS workplace responses.

ILO Online: What is the role of prevention in successful workplace interventions?

Dr. Sophia Kisting: The ILO has much experience in the implementation of workplace prevention strategies. HIV prevention has been integrated in occupational health services and occupational safety and health structures; in entrepreneurship training and apprenticeship programmes; in trade union and employer training; and many useful tools are available. The ILO Code of practice on HIV/AIDS in the world of work, adopted in 2001, provides the framework for workplace responses everywhere, and has been translated into 54 languages to date. It sets out ten key principles for policy development as well as providing practical guidance for programming.

ILO Online: This year’s Conference is held in Mexico. What are the particular challenges with respect to HIV/AIDS and the workplace in Latin America?

Dr. Sophia Kisting: In Latin America, nearly two million people live with HIV, with approximately 350 new infections every day. At the same time over 23 million out of 239 million economically active individuals in Latin America are affected by open unemployment, and another 103 million are employed in the informal economy, often without labour rights or social protection. We need to understand and act upon the inter-connections between AIDS, work and development. Labour migration and AIDS is another emerging issue. Our responsibility to mobilize the world of work for prevention is clear, and we particularly welcome the support of the ILO’s Regional Director for the Americas, Mr. Jean Maninat, who will take part in the Conference. Latin America and the Caribbean have the organizational infrastructure and human resources for sustained programmes to counter the disease.

ILO Online: You are from Africa. What about your continent?

Dr. Sophia Kisting: We acknowledge the greater needs of the African region – and also the lessons to be learnt from it. The significant increase in the numbers of people on treatment is not just saving lives but starting to change how people view the epidemic and HIV-positive status. At the same time, however, our colleagues and constituents in Africa urge the need to take action even where prevalence is low, before the epidemic takes a firmer hold – thus the core message from Africa is to focus on comprehensive and effective prevention.

ILO Online: The meeting in Mexico will include a briefing on a proposed new international labour standard on HIV/AIDS that is to be considered by the ILO’s annual International Labour Conference next year. What are the implications of this?

Dr. Sophia Kisting: In June 2009, the International Labour Conference of the ILO – effectively the world’s most important global labour parliament – will hold a first tripartite discussion on a new international labour standard that is intended to extend and strengthen responses to HIV/AIDS in the world of work. The new standard is expected to take the form of what we call a Recommendation to be adopted as the outcome of a second discussion in June 2010. Recommendations are not in themselves legally binding, but they provide valued guidance and ILO member States are obliged to provide reports on their application thus providing useful information for monitoring purposes. The preparation process is based on consultation with and between Government, employers’ and workers’ organizations, who are encouraged to include other key actors, for example, associations of people living with HIV (PLHIV).