HIV/AIDS on the Decent work Agenda

Decent work, a vital path out of poverty

The ILO concept of “Decent work” sums up the aspirations of people in their working lives - for employment opportunities, income and social protection; for rights, voice and recognition; for fairness and gender equality. It is a vital path out of poverty.

HIV, a threat to social justice

HIV/AIDS is an issue in every workplace and threatens every aspect of the ILO Decent Work Agenda. As a result, the ILO has been mainstreaming HIV/AIDS throughout its activities. At country level, HIV/AIDS is integrated into ILO projects via the ILO Decent Country Programmes.

HIV needs to be addressed in the workplace because it hinders the achievement of the four strategic objectives of the ILO

Fundamental principles and rights at work
The ILO supports national and enterprise-level efforts to establish or reinforce the legal framework to guide HIV/AIDS workplace policies and programmes, and to protect the rights of workers – especially those infected or believed to be infected.
Stigma and discrimination on grounds of real or perceived HIV status, infringement of workers’ rights to work, to privacy (confidentiality of HIV status) and to social protection are examples of HIV-related violations of the fundamental principles and rights promoted by the ILO at the workplace.
The infringement of workers’ rights aggravates the incidence of the HIV epidemic. Experience has shown that the spread of HIV is significantly higher among groups who already suffer from a lack of respect of their human rights, discrimination, or who are marginalized. They will not seek testing, counselling, treatment or support knowing they may be exposed to loss of employment or negative consequences.

Employment and income opportunities
The ILO stimulates and supports initiatives aimed at protecting employment as well as employees through workplace education and prevention programmes, counselling and support for people living with HIV/AIDS.
The HIV epidemic affects first and foremost the working age population. Loss of competent workforce, absenteeism due to sickness and other impacts of HIV/AIDS impair businesses’ productivity and profitability and disempower those already facing difficult socio-economic conditions. Empowering women and men workers of all ages to engage in and maintain productive activities is a priority when working at reducing stigma and discrimination related to HIV, supporting the livelihood of those affected by the disease and preventing new infections.
The critical connexion between poverty and HIV needs to be addressed as low levels of education or decision-making skills generally resulting from poverty are significant factors of vulnerability to HIV. Supporting the creation of job opportunities is also crucial in addressing the lack of social protection faced by many workers affected by HIV, especially in the informal economy.

Social protection
The ILO draws on its long-lasting expertise to help its constituents plan for the social and economic consequences of AIDS and to mitigate the impact on individuals and communities.
The epidemic has a severe impact on social security systems. HIV/AIDS increases social expenditures such as health care costs, pensions or sickness benefits. At enterprise level, social protection for all workers, especially those living with HIV, means improving access to prevention, treatment, support and care.

Social dialogue and tripartism
The ILO, with its distinctive governance and decision-making mechanisms, provides both a methodology for negociation and a network of contacts among the social partners which can be mobilized to tackle HIV/AIDS.
The effectiveness of this process is being compromised by HIV/AIDS. Unions, employers and governments are losing effective staff who would otherwise contribute to this process. In many countries, the epidemic has been fostering a climate of suspicion, fear and mistrust between the social partners – though many examples of united responses exist.