Ministry pushing workplace HIV/AIDS education

November 10, 2006

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The Ministry of Labour and the International Labour Organisation (ILO) are examining ways of sustaining the HIV/AIDS Workplace Education Project and transitioning to a national programme.

Since its launch in 2003, the project, which is being implemented through the ILO, has targeted business enterprises through a campaign of presentations, workshops and technical assistance. Almost 1000 workers have benefited and HIV/AIDS education is being integrated into the Occupational Safety and Health Committees at some enterprises. A manual for trainers and training of workplace peer educators was developed last year and a national tri-partite policy has been drafted.

To date, fourteen enterprises have HIV/AIDS workplace policies while another four have drafted policies since the local initiative. On Wednesday the ministry and the ILO hosted a sustainable planning workshop on HIV/AIDS and the world of work as part of the HIV/AIDS workplace project. Demerara Distillers Limited, the Guyana Telephone and Telegraph Company, Le Meridien Pegasus Hotel and the Guyana Revenue Authority are some of the companies that participated at the workshop.

Minister of Labour, Manzoor Nadir emphasised the need for greater collaboration in this area between the ministry and local enterprises. He pointed to the relationship between the United States Department of Labour (USDOL), the ministry and several local enterprises which has resulted in improvement in many key areas. Dr Kathleen Israel, the Pan American Health Organ-isation/World Health Organ-isation Representative in the United Nations Theme Group on HIV/AIDS, in her opening remarks, said initiatives work best when framed within a national context and are linked to other similar initiatives in a cohesive and mutually beneficial matter. She said a national perspective to the transitioning of the project activities, therefore, should be a step in this direction. Israel said the ILO/USDOL/HIV/AIDS Workplace Education Programme is a fine example of a multi-sectoral approach to addressing this problem. She urged participants at the workshop to ensure that the collaboration aspect of the programme remains strong and that strength will translate into a positive impact on HIV/AIDS-related initiatives.

US Ambassador to Guyana, David Robinson said people ought to be clear about why workplace and other HIV/AIDS awareness programmes are important. He said discrimination in any form is bad, adding that refusing a job or promotion to anyone because of race, religion, sex or any other irrelevant criteria is simply wrong. Robinson said the impact is worse with HIV/AIDS because it sends a clear message to others in the community that getting tested and knowing your status may cost you a promotion, a job or a means of supporting your family.

It drives people into silence and denial, he added.

The ILO programme was introduced locally after the USDOL awarded a four-year US$4.6M grant for a global HIV/AIDS programme to be implemented in the workplace. To date, the local project has encountered a few challenges including a high staff turnover and, in some cases, reassignment of focal persons; peer educators not being sufficiently mobilized and the lack of legislation to protect workers living with HIV/AIDS.