Come next week the public sector will have its first Policy and Code of Practice on HIV/AIDS and other Life Threatening Illnesses (LTI).
The booklet signifies Government’s commitment to treat all employees in the public sector in a fair and non-discriminatory manner regardless of their HIV status or any life-threatening illness.
The policy seeks to: promote the development of a supportive, ethical and human rights work environment that protects the fundamental rights and freedoms of workers living with HIV and other LTI. In addition, it provides guidelines for the public sector in the effective management of these issues to ensure a consistent approach in dealing with public sector employees living with HIV and other LTI.
The Code is the brainchild of the Ministry of Labour’s Project Unit, which was established in 2006, as government sought to put prevention strategies in place to cope with the effects on HIV/AIDS on the workplace.
The Unit is the first of its kind in the Civil Service and one of its mandates is to look at issues related to stigma and discrimination. The Code of Practice is one such initiative aimed at addressing these challenges.
Project Coordinator of the Unit, Rhonda Boucher, said the policy was a culmination of some five years of research and input from the Ministry’s HIV/AIDS Core Group, which involves representatives of the public and private sectors and non-governmental organisations.
The committee was formed in 2001 by the Labour Ministry as a response to the challenges posed by HIV/AIDS in the workplace. It comprises key stakeholders including the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of the Civil Service, the Barbados Christian Council, the Congress of Trade Unions and Staff Associations, the Barbados Employers Confederation, the National HIV/AIDS Commission, and CARE Barbados.
Ms. Boucher explained that the document addresses several pertinent areas related to the modern workplace and deals with health-related matters such as confidentiality, stigma and discrimination, the desire and ability to work, and safety and health.
She further stated that it will also seek to bring a level of consistency to the civil Service in dealing with HIV/AIDS and other health-related matters, since, presently, these were dealt with on an ad-hoc, departmental basis.
"According to the findings of our research, there was no easily identifiable person in the organisation that would deal with a workplace problem regarding HIV or any other health issue. Across the Civil Service, there were a number of different people dealing with these issues, including personnel officers or senior clerks," the Project Coordinator disclosed.
Ms. Boucher added that managers and supervisors will have a critical role to play in ensuring adequate mechanisms were put in place to deal with such matters in the workplace and to ensure the Code was implemented in the most efficient manner possible.
In this regard, training will be an integral component to the implementation of the Code of Practice and will be carried out in three phases: the sensitisation of Permanent Secretaries, training of trainers workshops and training of employees in ministries/departments.
Ms. Boucher also pointed out that one of the goals of the Labour Ministry’s programme and by extension the Code of Practice is to develop a supporting, safe and healthy environment, where the rights of persons are respected.
"The issues of stigma, discrimination and confidentiality are major issues [which are addressed in the Code of Practice]. They are critical in the process of ensuring that persons feel comfortable and that they can come to work and not be ostracised or gossiped about and whatever information they bring to the workplace would be protected," she observed.
Ms. Boucher stressed that the Code of Practice would not be implemented in a vacuum, but pertinent legislation on stigma and discrimination is being discussed to buttress the document.
In this regard, she revealed that the Attorney General’s Office was in the process of looking at omnibus legislation on anti-discrimination, to address persons living with HIV and AIDS.
However, while this process is at the initial stages, the Project Unit head revealed there were still avenues for recourse if employees felt they were being targeted or treated unfairly, due to their perceived or, actual status.
"While there is no legislation at the moment that would support the Code, the Minor Offences Act can be used to protect workers from harassment and the Public Service Act speaks to the issue of confidentiality," Ms. Boucher pointed out.
The Code of Practice will be available at the Ministry of Labour, 3rd Floor, Warrens Office Complex, Warrens, St. Michael; and on the Barbados Government Information Service’s website http://www.gisbarbados.gov.bb/?? and other stakeholder sites for download in December.