Group flags HIV-related discrimination in workplace even with legal penalties

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By Gillian M. Cortez

DISCRIMINATION related to the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is still predominant in the workplace, despite widespread awareness now on the illness, a labor organization reported.

“It is sad to see that despite years of work, stigma and discrimination still persist,” said Shauna Olney, chief of International Labor Organization’s (ILO) Gender, Equality and Diversity and of ILOAIDS (ILO Programme on HIV/AIDS and the World of Work), at the launching last week of ILO’s report, “HIV Stigma and Discrimination in the World of Work: Findings from the People Living with HIV Stigma Index.”

“People living with HIV have a right to work and no one should deny them that,” she also said in a statement by ILO.

ILO partnered with the Global Network of People Living with HIV (GNP+) for this study, which reported that “In many countries, people had their job description changed, the nature of their work changed, or they had been refused promotion as a result of having HIV.”

In the report, the organizations gathered data from 10,000 respondents from 13 different countries worldwide between 2014 and 2017.

“Between five (percent) and 40% of respondents had lost a job or source of income during the preceding 12 months. Between 15% and 80% of those had suffered job loss

wholly or partly as a result of their HIV status,” the study reported in its summary findings.

Gender is also a factor in the discrimination on HIV-positive workers, with the report citing higher unemployment in some countries among women than among men.

“The lack of independent income among women means women living with HIV do not enjoy economic autonomy to the same extent as their male counterparts,” the report read.

The report also said unemployment among HIV-positive transgenders “remained high,” although in countries like Belize, Cameroon, Nicaragua and Uganda, majority of transgender respondents were employed either full-time or part-time.

“What this report shows is that we still have a long way to go in our efforts to combat workplace-related stigma and discrimination against people living with HIV,” GNP+ Programme Manager Sasha Volgina said.

ILO and GNP+ recommended “Interventions to reduce work-based stigma and discrimination and to (provide) more supportive workplaces (that) have the potential to deliver far-reaching results.”

The report also said workplaces should provide more than financial security and assurance for HIV workers, because “(t)he workplace can be an effective entry point to facilitate access to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support services. It can also be a key site to enforce human rights obligations by ensuring HIV stigma is minimized and discrimination does not occur.”

Article VII, Section 35 of Republic Act 8504, or the Philippine AIDS Prevention and Control Act of 1998, states “Discrimination in any form from pre-employment to post-employment, including hiring, promotion or assignment, based on the actual, perceived or suspected HIV status of an individual is prohibited. Termination from work on the sole basis of actual, perceived or suspected HIV status is deemed unlawful.”

An employer found guilty of such discriminatory acts could face six months to four years in jail and pay a fine not exceeding P100,000, besides removal of licenses or permits if found guilty.

The Department of Health (DOH) released its 2018 First Quarter report on HIV on July 3, reporting that 3,730 people were diagnosed with the disease during the first four months of this year.

The Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) also reported last week that the Philippines has the fastest growing rate on the disease in the Asia-Pacific region.