|Minister of Labour and Social Security, Dr. Esther Byer Suckoo is concerned about the effect of the HIV pandemic on the labour force of Barbados. (A. Miller/BGIS)|
Statistics have revealed that HIV infection is concentrated largely amongst the working population, putting persons in the highest economically productive age group in Barbados and the labour force at risk.
Emphasising that Government is committed to giving the highest priority to HIV and AIDS, Minister of Labour and Social Security, Dr. Esther Byer Suckoo, noted that her Ministry was particularly concerned "about the effect of the HIV pandemic on the labour force in Barbados."
She was speaking recently at the opening ceremony of a two-day workshop on HIV and Human Rights held at the Barbados Workers’ Union Labour College at Mangrove.???? Pointing to a recent Ministry of Health report, she lamented that of the 135 newly diagnosed persons living with HIV for 2010, 42 of them fell between 20 and 49 years.
Reiterating that approximately 88 per cent of this island’s active labour force fell within the 20 to 49 age group, the Labour Minister told participants: "Factors such as fear, stigma and discrimination continue to surround HIV and AIDS."
She observed that over the past 28 years, this island’s accomplishments in the fight against HIV and AIDS were comparable to industrialised countries, with Barbados recording a significant reduction in the number of AIDS-related deaths and no reported cases of HIV transmission from mother-to-child in the past four years.
However, despite these achievements, Dr. Byer Suckoo lamented: "Attitudes [such as fear, stigma and discrimination] represent significant barriers to the effectiveness of prevention and treatment programmes at the national and international levels, and have the potential to erode our current successes, and negatively impact our labour force."
"As a result of stigma, many persons are unwilling to get tested and where persons are aware of their status, many are not availing themselves of opportunities for treatment and related support. This phenomenon is also expressed in stigmatising language, such as gossip and rumours in the workplace, which often force persons to leave their jobs, prematurely curtailing their productivity," she remarked.
Explaining that stigma and discrimination create social inequality, she pointed out that the United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) states that HIV-related stigma and discrimination play a key role in producing and reproducing relations of power and control; with some groups made to feel devalued and others superior.
"Until you have to walk the path of a person living with HIV, you cannot imagine how difficult that must be.?? I know an HIV positive young man who refuses to disclose his status to anyone besides his doctors for fear of discrimination.?? It is not easy to live in silence.?? Human rights are universal rights that belong to all people irrespective of their condition or affliction," the Labour Minister stressed.
With this fundamental principle in mind, she outlined that the Ministry of Labour would continue to promote and enforce a supportive, ethical and human rights environment for persons living with, and affected by HIV and other life-threatening illnesses, especially in the workplace.
"We are moving forward steadfastly in ensuring workers’ rights and freedoms are protected in the workplace.?? In 2009, the Ministry introduced, within the Public Sector, a Policy on HIV/AIDS and Other Life-Threatening Illnesses, as well as a Code of Practice for the Public Sector," she said.
The Code is a guide for Public Sector Managers, created to assist in the promotion and development of a supportive, ethical and human rights work environment that protects the fundamental rights and freedoms of workers living with HIV and other life-threatening illnesses.?? In 2011, the Code of Practice was endorsed by the Social Partnership through the signing of Protocol 6.
The Labour Minister outlined that, to date, her Ministry had conducted numerous stigma reduction programmes for workers in the public and private sectors; peer education training for workers in various industries; had hosted HIV and AIDS Quiz and Poetry competitions; and educated employees on the issue of HIV and AIDS and other chronic illnesses through, educational outreach bus tours and health and wellness fairs.
She lauded the AIDS Foundation of Barbados Inc. and the Congress of Trade Unions and Staff Association of Barbados for hosting the workshop.??