Absence of policy makes addressing HIV/AIDS difficult

The absence of an HIV/AIDS and TB policy for the workplace has proven to be a challenge in effectively tackling issues around stigma and discrimination in the courts, and by labour officers.

The situation is also reported to impact negatively on national productivity and effectiveness of the public and private sector organisations because dealing with sick employees is ambiguous.

The permanent secretary in the Ministry of Labour and Home Affairs (MLHA), Pearl Matome said this when officiating at the ongoing Labour Sector Advisory Committee meeting on Monday. 

The committee is meant to coordinate and provide technical guidance in the development and implementation of HIV/AIDS policies, programmes and guidelines.

Matome also said matters were further complicated whenever issues of alleged unfair dismissals on the basis of real or perceived status of any chronic illness surfaced.

“I am confident that the team that we have put together today will work towards coming up with strategies and legal frameworks to combat such challenges. 

“The absence of such a policy has constrained the country’s efforts as some employers have still not put in place any HIV/AIDS mitigation measures in their respective workplaces, thus disadvantaging their workers,” she said.

Matome noted that the policy was long overdue, adding that it would be beneficial to both employers and employees as the availability of a legal framework would reduce prevailing challenges. 

“We should all appreciate that employees are paid to deliver on objectives of organisations, and employee’s absence due to illness should not cause loss of profits and reduced customer service,” she said.

Matome added: “There is therefore a fine sensitive line between the rights of an employee and the bottom line of organisations, which has to be dealt with in a manner that does not compromise the company/service or the employee.”

Despite the fact that a significant number of employers recognise HIV/AIDS and wellness as work place issues, Matome said the general reluctance to commit resources such as time and money to fully address this national problem was worrisome.

Matome lamented the poor uptake of services by employees, which often frustrates the employers’ efforts where a provision would have been made for counselling, testing and treatment to support such workers. 

She encouraged the two parties to embrace this issue in their collective bargaining processes.

“I therefore urge both the employers and workers organisations to take this issue seriously and include it in the collective bargaining packages,” she said.

Pretoria based technical advisor to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), Simphiwe Mabhele, who was also present at the workshop, commended the establishment of the committee and policy, as a good move.

Mabhele further said HIV prevention and social protection programmes in the world of work, including employment creation, focusing on workers at risk in key economic sectors in the formal as well as the informal economy were critical, hence deserved undivided attention.

Mabhele however cautioned that the policy ought to be inclusive and speak to the needs of all quarters in the workplace.

More often than not this space was only limited to people currently of permanent employment while those engaged as interns, volunteers and apprentices were left out.

“The world of work is all encompassing, as people looking for employment, people who exited employment, interns, volunteers and apprentices as well as ex miners and other workers are part of it,” he said.

Mabhele said at the moment, South Africa has an influx of medical practitioners engaged as interns despite their exclusion for occupational related diseases benefits.

He pleaded with labour authorities to get this policy right and not to be discriminatory.

Botswana is one of the sub-Saharan countries hard hit by HIV and AIDS pandemic as latest statistics pack the national prevalence rate at 18.5 percent while incidence is at 1.35 percent.

According to the National AIDS Coordinating Agency (NACA), females prevalence rate stood at 20.8 percent while that of males was at 15.6 percent.  Principal Information, Education and Information Officer at NACA, Nonofo Leteane said around 360 thousand of the country’s poupulation was on Anti-Retroviral programme.

“The figure is expected to shoot as the current 350 CD4 threshold for anti-retroviral drugs is reviewed to 500, and this would be implemented by 2020,”  he said.

A study commissioned by the Directorate of Public Service Management reveals that around 10,000 staff were on anti-retroviral drugs in 2011, with a projected rise of almost 1:8 by 2015.

“Current terminations due to AIDS are around 0.5 percent of all employees per year. At present, survival rates for staff on ART are higher than 80 %.

However, treatment complications and failures could result in significant illness and mortality as the number of people on ART is now large and continues to rise,” the report reads.

Editor's Comment
What about employees in private sector?

How can this be achieved when there already is little care about the working conditions of those within the private sector employ?For a long time, private sector employees have been neglected by their employers, not because they cannot do better to care for them, but because they take advantage of government's laxity when it comes to protecting and advocating for public sector employees, giving the cue to employers within the private sector...

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