Labour and Small Enterprise Development Minister Jennifer Baptiste-Primus formally handed over copies of the National Workplace Policy on HIV and Aids, and an employee brochure document in braille, to Kenneth Surratt, executive officer of the Blind Welfare Association (TTBWA) and Catherine Romain, executive director of the National Library and Information System Authority (Nalis), at the atrium of the National Library, Port of Spain on Friday.
For Surratt, the policy is very important. In his passionate remarks, he said: “We believe in an all-inclusive society, where persons who are blind or have a disability could live side by side in society, not to be placed in an institution, not to be hidden away or to be grouped in one section. We want to participate in everything possible. Now, with the policy, they don’t have to depend on someone to read for them.”
Saying he knows only too well of discrimination suffered in the past, he said having the policy gives his association the opportunity not to discriminate against those with HIV/Aids, and that they were happy to be part of the drafting of the policy in braille.
He then called on the minister also to develop a policy for people who become disabled on the job, saying: “We can develop a similar policy in braille. We can have training and rehabilitation programmes to get that person back in the workplace.”
Referencing printed work and the Copyright Act, Surratt said: “We are asking the minister, please encourage the AG to have that legislation amended so printed work could be accessible to the disabled. Once we amend that copyright law, immediately, over 500,000 books will be available in an accessible format for the vision-impaired.
“We need a website to be accessible for text and screen readers, we need things in large print and in digital format. Once we create that opportunity, we could reduce the dependency on the disability grant and encourage persons who are disabled to move into the workplace and contribute to the country, and show the rest of the world how a small nation could have a big impact.”
In response, Baptiste-Primus said her ministry would collaborate with the Ministry of Social Development and Family Services, as this policy "would prevent discrimination, and most of all, the dependency on the disability grant. And it will further lend to the empowerment of visually impaired persons.”
She then lauded the work of the association, which she described as a contribution of indelible magnitude to society, making it possible for many to gain education and equip themselves for numerous tasks and do jobs in various workspaces, both in the public and private sectors.
She said: “I stand proud here to be part of this handover ceremony where the ministry, along with the TTBWA, would have made it possible to produce the National Workplace Policy as well as the HIV Workplace Advocacy Unit’s Information Brochure, all prepared and produced in braille.”
She said in TT 44.4 per cent of new HIV cases fall within the most productive age group that contributes to the workforce. “That 25-44 year age group that has the highest rates of HIV and Aids is not only a health issue, it is also poses a labour issue. The policy would assist in the reduction of the spread of HIV and Aids, increase awareness and public information and guide employers in the management of having an employee who is infected.”
She then spoke of her own cousin, saying she wasn’t a promiscuous person but died from Aids. “It came home to her. So we must understand that we have higher levels of responsibility as to how we embrace persons with Aids.”
The policy provides guidelines for managing the impact of having an infected employee in three ways. The first is committing the workplace to take action; two, laying down a standard of behaviour for all employees (whether those employees are infected or not) and defining the rights of all; and giving guidance to managers and workplace representatives.
Baptiste-Primus said: “I urge all our stakeholders to take the opportunity to work with us in improving workplace environments and increasing productivity and making the overall work experience one that is safe, healthy and enjoyable for all involved.
“The time for inclusivity within the workforce is now and the ministry aims to ‘promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all’ in keeping with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.
Earlier Natalie Willis, permanent secretary in the ministry, said when the policy was launched in 2017 it was with the intention to support productivity in the workplace and the right to work under the ambit of the Decent Work Agenda.
“This integral policy was developed to address stigma and discrimination against persons living with and affected by HIV and Aids in the workplace who may feel threatened in their workspace and whose fundamental rights for work maybe infringed upon.”
Romain also saw it as critical to the work environment
She added, "With the imminent amendment of the Copyright Act, Nalis will have legal authority to convert, published works without seeking the licence to your copyright permissions from publishers or creators of the work. This in essence will expand the availability of print materials in accessible format such as braille, large print, and digital audio files for the use of persons who are blind.”