World AIDS Day: Living and working with HIV/AIDS
This year’s World AIDS Day theme focuses on the rights of people living with HIV/AIDS. And rightly so. In our view, the rights of the people living with HIV/AIDS have not yet received the attention they deserve. According to the ILO, there are over 33 million people living with HIV/AIDS in the world. Over 30 million of them are of working age. Most of them are in developing countries, in Africa in particular, and over half of them are women.
For us in the trade union movement, HIV/AIDS is not just a health issue, although it is indeed a very serious public health problem. It is also a question of human rights. It is a social issue, an economic issue, and a very serious impediment to development. Our role is to help combat stigma and discrimination, and also to help protect and promote the rights and entitlements of workers, their families and communities affected by the disease.
The ILO has recognized the importance and effectiveness of workplace action on HIV/AIDS, and in the union movement we have a contribution to make through workplace initiatives. The TUC were among the first to react to the outbreak of the disease in the UK in the early eighties. In collaboration with the CBI and ACAS we played a leading role in co-ordinating workplace response to HIV/AIDS. We helped develop workplace policies, practices and strategies through partnership with employers, and two years ago we produced a new workplace guide on HIV/AIDS in collaboration with the National AIDS Trust.
In many parts of the world, trade unionists have joined hands with employers to form a common front against the disease, for instance with training programmes for health and safety representatives as well as providing information and counselling in workplaces. For example, the TUC are working with local unions and funding organisations to deliver assistance right now to workers in Africa.
In Ghana, working with the Timber and Woodworkers’ Union there, our voluntary counselling and testing initiative is designed to prevent the spread of the disease without stigmatising potential sufferers. And in Uganda and Nigeria, we have been collaborating with local unions on education and information campaigns with workers. There’s also a focus on collaboration and collective bargaining with employers on workplace policies on HIV/AIDS that protect workers’ rights.
These projects all cost money, of course, and we’re grateful to Bill Morris for the donation he made when he retired from the TGWU to establish the Bill Morris Fund that we launched this time last year. We’re also very grateful to the Department for International Development for the Programme Partnership Arrangement, which funds our Nigerian project.