One of the more challenging aspects of the HIV/AIDS education programme was to find effective mechanisms to reach workers outside of the formal workplace. Therefore, the Ministry engages in a number of community outreach activities to take the messages directly to the workers at home.
In 2003 the Ministry held its first outreach at Princess Alice Terminal in Bridgetown to target transport and fisherfolk workers in the area. In 2006 a similar exercise was held in Speightstown, St Peter and this outreach was extended to the small and medium size businesses in the immediate community. An integral aspect of the community outreach programme is voluntary counselling and testing. The Ministry conducted a ‘bus tour’ to over forty business places from Lears, St Michael to the Glebe, St George. HIV/AIDS packages were provided for management and their workers.
Code of Practice on HIV/AIDS and other Life-Threatening Illnesses in the Workplace
The Social Partners of Barbados developed a Code of Practice on HIV/AIDS and other Life-Threatening Illnesses in the Workplace to address several critical issues facing employers and employees in relation to HIV/AIDS and other chronic illnesses in the workplace.
The Social Partnership is tripartite in nature, involving the Government of Barbados, employers’ representatives and workers’ representatives. This body developed the Code of Practice recognizing the potential impact HIV/AIDS and other life threatening illnesses can have on the business environment. The Social Partners understands the importance of developing a working environment within organizations where persons living with and affected by HIV/AIDS can continue to work with dignity and respect.
In the Code of Practice, guidelines are provided for employers to ensure that there is no discrimination in the workplace with respect to “job applications, hiring, upgrading, advancement, promotion, discharge, discipline, lay-offs, privileges of employment, compensation, training or other terms and conditions of employment.” For example, employees should not have to submit to HIV/AIDS tests or disclose their HIV/AIDS status as a requirement for application for employment or for continued employment.
The Code of Practice also states that “the employer shall, wherever possible, and on a case by case basis, facilitate those employees with HIV/AIDS or any other life threatening illness who desire to continue working.” The guidelines therefore encourages employers to provide reasonable accommodation for these employees, which can include flexible working hours, job restructuring or time off for medical treatment.
However, the code explains that employers have the right to satisfy himself/herself, if necessary though a fitness evaluation, that the employees affected by HIV/AIDS and other life threatening illnesses will be able to perform their duties in a safe and reliable manner. Employers also have the right to ask the employees known to have a life threatening illness to be medically evaluated if work-place associated problems arise. Such problems may be infrequent attendance or unsatisfactory work caused by mental, physical or emotional conditions. However, the employees must be assured of confidentiality and that the evaluation is part of the employers’ efforts to assist and support their employment.
Employers are encouraged to educate and sensitize their employees about HIV/AIDS and other life threatening illnesses. Therefore, there should be emphasis placed on providing information about the transmission of these illnesses and on the responsibilities of employees which include:
• Learning all they can about HIV/AIDS and other life threatening illnesses.
• Adhering to procedures set in place to ensure their safety and the safety of their colleagues from exposure to blood and other bodily fluids
• Treating all colleagues with dignity and respect despite their HIV/AIDS status or if they are afflicted with other life threatening illnesses.
In October, 2003, the Ministry of Labour hosted a seminar to raise awareness of the code of practice among managers in the private, public and informal sectors of the workforce and to encourage organizations to implement workplace policies on HIV/AIDS and other life threatening illnesses. Copies of the code were subsequently distributed to all attendees of the seminar and since then, the Ministry continues to disseminate this information to the public and private sector.
The Ministry encourages employers and employees alike to read and adopt the Social Partners’ Code of Practice. Interested persons are therefore invited to contact the Ministry of Labour to acquire a copy of the code.