Unions endorse GUYSUCO HIV/AIDS fight policy of confidentiality

Guyana Chronicle
October 18, 2003

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GUYANA Sugar Corporation (GUYSUCO) has joined in the fight against HIV/AIDS by launching a corporate policy of confidentiality, aimed at ensuring that all its employees are fully informed about the prevention, care and treatment of the pandemic.

The two unions representing sugar workers, Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU) and National Association of Agricultural, Commercial and Industrial Employees (NAACIE) also endorsed the strategy by signing on to it at LeMeridien Pegasus Hotel in Georgetown Thursday.

Chairman of GUYSUCO, Mr Vickram Oditt, President of GAWU, Mr Komal Chand and General President of NAACIE, Mr Kenneth Joseph were the signatories to the documentation.

GUYSUCO acknowledged that the rapidly increasing spread of the disease in Guyana “is of great concern” and “a threat to us all and the future of the corporation.”

The policy, therefore, sets out how GUYSUCO will relate to its employees and what it will do to battle the illness, Oditt said.

The guidelines said:

· all HIV testing will be voluntary, with written, informed consent and must be accompanied by confidential pre and post counselling;

· no employee will be required to undergo mandatory testing, either as a prerequisite for employment or because of suspicion of being infected with HIV;

· no employee shall be under obligation to disclose his or her HIV status to anyone in the corporation, whether management or otherwise and the result of an employee’s test shall be kept confidential. It would only be divulged to a third party with the informed, written consent of the employee;

· there shall be no discrimination in the workplace against employees because of their HIV status and no employee shall be terminated solely on the basis of it, because fitness for work is based only on functional performance of the job;

· any person too ill to work because of HIV infection or AIDS will be treated in the same manner as any other employee suffering from a severe incurable disease and that sickness shall not be a factor in determining tenure, promotion, transfer, retrenchment and benefits and

· any change in job status shall be based on equality of opportunity, merit and capacity to perform to a satisfactory standard.

GUYSUCO said it would also put in place mechanisms to ensure that employees, their families and other persons living with HIV/AIDS in adjoining communities are provided with supportive counselling.

Employees and their dependents will be treated in accordance with the corporation’s protocol guidelines and will have a programme for referral to national HIV/AIDS facilities where required and a worker who has been exposed to HIV due to the nature of the job will be managed according to the GUYSUCO Protocol for Occupational Exposure to HIV.

GUYSUCO pledged, as well, to make sure that personnel who would likely be exposed to HIV through their occupation will be provided with the necessary information, equipment and training to minimise the risk of becoming sick through occupational exposure.

Speaking on the occasion of the launch of the ‘Corporate HIV/AIDS Policy’, Oditt said:“We have recognised that HIV is not a workplace issue but a major threat facing not only our employees but the communities that we live and work in and that we cannot separate the two.

“If we wish to address this threat, then we have to involve all stakeholders. We all have much to learn about the disease and its impact on our organisation and the communities that surround our estates.”

The Chairman gave the assurance that GUYSUCO will not discriminate against those infected and affected by HIV/AIDS, which is beginning to have a devastating effect on this country and has become a human rights issue globally and a challenge to both science and labour relations.

Oditt said GUYSUCO recognises the potential seriousness of this development and has premised the guidelines on international recommendations and practices for business, employees and the wider community.

He agreed that the corporation must have the support of all its stakeholders in the combat against HIV/AIDS and, to this end, has established a committee of management and union representatives charged with giving direction to and overseeing implementation of the policy and resulting interventions.

Oditt said the group will work with other agencies and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in the quest, with related procedures and practices regularly reviewed and updated.

He assured that all employees will be exposed to accurate information on HIV/AIDS and GUYSUCO would aid the Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission (PMTCT) and make condoms freely available and accessible to their families and people in adjoining communities.

“It is the responsibility of all employees to maintain an environment free from stigma and discrimination,” Oditt said, warning that “an employee who discriminates and stigmatises on the basis of HIV or AIDS shall be subject to disciplinary action.”

He said GUYSUCO, the largest employer in Guyana, is committed to the fight against this disease in the organisation and in the communities where it operates.

Chand and Joseph, in separate remarks, said their respective unions were pleased to be participants in the GUYSUCO HIV/AIDS policy as they know the global problem must be tackled by one united force.

Minister of Health, Dr Leslie Ramsammy, who delivered the main speech at the function, lauded the initiative by GUYSUCO.

“It is a step in the right direction,” he declared. (MARK RAMOTAR)