Unions have provided leadership on the social and economic issues that affect the lives of working men and women for nearly two centuries. Unions and their leaders have changed the lives of millions, through claiming their rights, respecting their dignity, fighting discrimination and gaining improved pay and working conditions. In recent decades they have taken up the critical issue of gender equality.

Of the 40 million people estimated to be infected with HIV today, over 80% are adults in their productive prime (15-49 years). Workers are losing their health, their income, their rights and their lives. This has serious repercussions for governance, enterprise productivity, the provision of essential services and socio-economic and global security.

Why is leadership important from a labour perspective?

HIV and AIDS is an important issue for trade unions because workers and the families, workplaces and communities that depend on them are bearing the brunt of the epidemic. Unions represent the voice of workers and are crucial in ensuring a multi-level and multi-sector response to AIDS. It takes leadership to face up to the implications of HIV for unions and mobilise a labour response. Union members need to speak loudly and clearly to encourage their local, national and international leadership to:

  • Establish a union policy on AIDS, with an implementation plan and a leader responsible for coordinating action to make the plan part of the union’s culture.
  • Negotiate HIV agreements as a routine matter in collective bargaining with employers that protect rights and put in place workplace programmes.
  • Encourage prevention for workers and their families through raising awareness of risk and supporting behaviour change.
  • Promote access to care and treatment at and through the workplace.
  • Advocate for policies, programmes and resources to contribute to the national response to HIV, particularly those addressing the needs of workers and their families.
  • Work through existing structures such as occupational safety and health committees.
  • Implement the ILO (International Labour Organisation) Code of Practice on HIV and AIDS and the world of work to see the code, click here (http://www.ilo.org/public/english/protection/trav/aids/publ/codelanguage.htm).
  • Contribute a local and national perspective to the efforts of the Global Unions Programme on HIV/AIDS.

Specific actions taken by unions include:

  • Negotiating for anti-discrimination and anti-victimisation clauses in collective agreements.
  • Negotiating better medical coverage for workers, their families and their communities.
  • Leading voluntary counselling and testing (VCT) drives in the workplace and the local community.
  • Coordinating peer education and counselling through existing education programme and shop steward structures.
  • Advocating, negotiating and lobbying.
  • Taking part in tripartite structures with employers and government, and agreeing national policies on AIDS for the world of work.
  • Providing a workers’ perspective to members of the UN family and bilateral government programmes, to assist in developing guidelines and policies related to universal access and the workers who provide prevention, treatment and care.

Please see below for more information about how labour is taking the lead.

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