LABOUR Minister Jennifer Baptiste-Primus said people must act responsibly in the face of the AIDS/HIV crisis. She was answering questions at the media launch of a public awareness campaign for the 2017 National Workplace Policy on HIV/AIDS.
While the policy urged equality for workers living with the virus, Newsday asked if it should also call on people to behave responsibly after reports of male bosses making sexual demands of female Venezuelans seeking jobs.
Baptiste-Primus said, “We all have to accept responsibility for our sexual behaviour. We have to behave in such a way that we protect not only ourselves but our loved ones by re-modelling our sexual behaviour. That is a personal responsibility that the manager spoke to.”
This sentiment echoed earlier remarks by Heather Rodney, HIV Workplace Advocacy Unit head in the ministry, on the same question.
Rodney said the HIV policy seeks to protect both employer and employee.
“In promoting the policy, we also look at promoting behaviour change, of all individuals and in this instance in the workplace. Behaviours are what drives the epidemic. So we are looking at behaviour change as part of the campaign message.” She said the HIV policy aims to protect both bosses and staff in cases of perceived discrimination or perceived advantage being taken, even as some complaints may not have grounds.
Replying to Newsday’s question on the sexual harassment of Venezuelan women, she said this was not new in TT, where local women have faced similar.
“We speak about instances of Venezuelans seeking employment, but we have had certain instances of those concerns even when TT nationals had been seeking employment, where some bosses take advantage.”
Earlier, the unit’s Chamika Ward said by 2020 some 8,301 people in the workforce will be living with AIDS/HIV. Given the minister’s remark that 44 per cent of people living with AIDS/HIV are of working age (25-44), this suggests the number of TT nationals with AIDS/HIV is 18,000.
Ward said the number of workers dying from the virus had been steadily falling and next year is projected to see a record low of 123 deaths.
In her earlier address, Baptiste-Primus urged a caring and inclusive environment at workplaces for those employees living with AIDS/HIV. They must feel they are loved and cherished, she said. Baptiste-Primus said the awareness campaign was in line with Vision 2020, the UN Sustainable Development Goals and the 2010 International Labour Organisation’s (ILOs) Recommendations and Code of Practice on HIV and AIDS and the World of Work. In the coming weeks, the ministry will launch an awareness campaign via social media, media adverts and a billboard at City Gate, Port of Spain. Her staff stands ready to helpworkplaces develop an HIV policy which will show corporate social responsibility and avert financial and legal issues and operational downtime.
Baptiste-Primus listed key provisions of any workplace HIV policy.
“We must guarantee that workers are not discriminated against based on their actual or even perceived HIV status.”
Employers must not breach the confidentiality of workers when information is disclosed to them, nor force employees to reveal their HIV status.
“No worker is to be tested for HIV when being considered for employment or a promotion, and being infected with HIV cannot be the grounds for dismissal.”
Employers should encourage HIV prevention and education so as to foster healthy, safe and supportive work environments.
“The workplace must be a space where our labour force is encouraged to access care and support if they are either infected or affected by HIV.”