International labour standard would strengthen the HIV response in the workplace
21 July 2008
A majority of the 33 million people living
with HIV worldwide are working and in
their most productive years.
A majority of the 33 million people living with HIV worldwide are working and in their most productive years. They generate much-needed income to support their families, and their skills and experience make a big contribution to their workplace and country. However, despite major advances in attitudes and knowledge about HIV, many workers still face discrimination, stigma and fear of losing their job.
Yet the workplace can be one of the most effective settings for responding to AIDS as it is a community where people come together to discuss and learn from one another. Existing structures and facilities such as occupational health services can also be used for HIV prevention, care and support services.
New international labour standard
To expand and strengthen the role of the workplace in the global response to AIDS, the International Labour Organization (ILO), which is a cosponsor of UNAIDS, has launched a process to adopt a new international labour standard in the form of an autonomous Recommendation.
International labour standards are legal instruments drawn up by the ILO's constituents —governments, employers and workers—and which set out basic principles and rights at work.
Strengthening the Code of Practice
If adopted, the new standard would complement, reinforce and extend the impact of the existing ILO Code of Practice on HIV/AIDS and the world of work, which focuses on the protection and promotion of rights and it would also strengthen the workplace contribution to achieving universal access to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support services.
Despite major advances in
attitudes and knowledge
about HIV, many workers still
face discrimination, stigma
and fear of losing their job.
The current ILO Code of Practice has been integrated into laws and policies in many countries, but because it is a voluntary instrument its uptake is optional. There is also no provision for monitoring the quality or extent of its use, as there would be in the case of a standard.
Although the implementation of a new standard would not be mandatory for member States, it would have to be submitted, once adopted, to national authorities “for the enactment of legislation or other action”. This will provide the ILO and its constituents with an opportunity to review action taken.
The standard presents a good opportunity for enhancing HIV support services in the workplace according to the Director of the ILO’s Programme on HIV/AIDS and the World of Work, Dr Sophia Kisting: “This standard setting process provides us with a special opportunity to work closely with different departments in the ILO, with our constituents, UNAIDS and with networks of people living with HIV. We are encouraged by the positive responses and support we have had, and look forward to the scaling up of concrete responses at the workplace through a strengthened legal-policy environment."
“HIV/AIDS and the World of Work”
The discussion of a new international standard is on the agenda for the 2009 and 2010 International Labour Conferences. In preparation for these discussions, the ILO has prepared an overview report “HIV/AIDS and the World of Work” which includes the most comprehensive compilation to date of national laws and policies on HIV, covering 170 countries.
The report finds that more than 70 ILO member States have, or are in the process of adopting, a general law on HIV, while 30 countries have adopted, or are in the process of adopting, specific workplace rules. Other countries deal with HIV under either equal opportunities or public health legislation, and some have integrated HIV into labour legislation.
the workplace can be one of the most
effective settings for responding to AIDS
as it is a community where people come
together to discuss and learn from one
another. Photo: UNAIDS/J.Spaull
This report and its accompanying questionnaire have been sent to the ILO's member States. Governments are to reply to the questionnaire in consultation with employers and workers which asks for their views on the scope and content of the proposed standard. Labour ministries are also advised to consult with other national ministries and institutions dealing with HIV, and to include organizations of people living with HIV and others engaged in national programmes.
Based on the responses to the questionnaire, a second report will then be produced with draft conclusions for discussion at the 2009 International Labour Conference, which will prepare the path for the adoption of the new international labour standard by 2010.
The “ILO Code of Practice on HIV/AIDS and the world of work” was adopted in 2001 in wide consultation with tripartite constituents in all regions. It has been translated into 57 languages to date. A framework for action related to the workplace, it contains principles for policy development and practical guidelines for programmes at enterprise, community and national levels and it covers in the following main areas:
- Prevention of HIV
- Management and mitigation of the impact of AIDS on the world of work
- Care and support of workers infected and affected by HIV/AIDS
- Elimination of stigma and discrimination on the basis of real or perceived HIV status.