Swaziland firms take lead in fighting HIV/AIDS in workplaces

Addis Ababa- Ethiopia (PANA) -- Some enterprises in Swaziland have been cited as leading examples in bringing the fight against HIV/AIDS to the workplace, according to a new film and report from the International Labour Organization (ILO), to be released Wednesday.
Swaziland is among 16 countries where ILO's Strategic HIV/AIDS Responses in Enterprises (SHARE) is implementing projects that have adopted a national tripartite declaration on HIV and the world of work.
To support implementation of the declaration, a total of 37 officials from the Ministry of Labour, 70 members from the Swaziland Federation of Employers and the Federation of Swaziland Business Community and 35 representatives of trade unions were trained in close collaboration with the National Emergency Response Council on HIV/AIDS.
The Addis Ababa-based ILO Regional Office for Africa said Tuesday that both the film and the report would be officially released at the Esibayeni Lodge in Matsapha, Swaziland.
Working with the ILO's SHARE project, Swazi enterprises like Dalcrue have made radical changes to its sick leave policy to accommodate workers living with HIV.
The company is now offering 90 days full paid sick leave, and a further 90 days at half pay, for staff who have been employed by the company for a minimum of three years, while the statutory amount payable in Swaziland is 14 days on full pay and a further 14 days on half pay.
"This is a remarkable achievement and came about after a training session on the key principles of the ILO Code of Practice," said SHARE National Project Coordinator in Swaziland Khombi Nkonde.
"Fourteen days is often not enough time for workers suffering from HIV-related illnesses to recover, so they end up sick with no pay.
This policy gives them a vital income at a time when they really need it," he said.
Another firm, Superspar chain, has worked with SHARE to develop an HIV/AIDS policy and programme for its staff that ensures confidentiality, creates an enabling environment for disclosure of HIV status and provides reasonable accommodation for workers living with HIV.
As proof of its commitment to this policy and its employees, Superspar management gave a final written warning to a supervisor who disclosed the HIV status of two workers.
"The message was clear that the company has zero tolerance for bridging confidentiality and that the policy is not just a piece of paper.
Employees are now open about their status because they feel supported," said store manager Carl Litchfield.
A behavior change communication programme has been developed and staff can go for medical appointments during working time.
Peer educators visit sick workers with food parcels during official working time.
Out of the first group of 12 pilot enterprises in Swaziland that signed a memorandum of cooperation with the ILO in 2004, 11 have an active joint HIV/AIDS committee, have adopted a written HIV/AIDS workplace policy, have established a condom distribution service and have made available information on sexually transmitted infections and voluntary, counselling and testing facilities.
With the financial support of the U.
President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) through the US Department of Labour, the ILO project is now reaching a total of 24 workplaces from the agriculture, communication, manufacturing, retail and textile sectors, or over 20,500 workers, in Swaziland alone.
Worldwide, the project is active in over 650 workplaces in 24 countries covering almost one million workers.
"Several countries offer outstanding examples of how they address HIV/AIDS using the workplace for prevention, care and support, and to tackle stigma and discrimination," remarked Dr.
Sophia Kisting, Director of the ILO Programme on HIV/AIDS and the world of work.
In its recent report entitled 'Saving lives, Protecting jobs', the ILO highlights a number of policies on HIV/AIDS at the enterprise and national levels.
The report also tracks changes in attitudes related to HIV and presents a series of good practices and data collected from workplaces, ministries of labour, employers' and workers' organisations collaborating with the ILO.
Over the last four years, the ILO has gathered data in six pilot countries to measure the impact of HIV/AIDS workplace interventions.
In Belize, Benin, Cambodia, Ghana, Guyana and Togo, workers demonstrated a marked improvement in attitudes towards people living with HIV, the ILO said.
The recorded changes in behaviour could be attributed in part to increased access to HIV services in enterprises in all six countries.
At the start of SHARE in 2003, only 14 percent of the participating enterprises in the six pilot countries had written HIV policies.
But, according to the impact survey, 76 percent of the participating enterprises had written HIV policies in place.

20 august 2008 12:47:00

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