4 July 2008

Malawi: HIV/Aids And The Workplace - Enterprises Leading the Way

press release

Many Malawi enterprises are leading examples in bringing the fight against HIV/AIDS to the workplace, according to a new report from the International Labour Organization (ILO) to be released nationally on 4th July 2008, at Crossroad Hotel, Cresta in Lilongwe.

In collaboration with the Malawi Government through the Ministry of Labour, ILO signed a memorandum of cooperation with 10 enterprises from different sectors. Out of these group of 10 pilot enterprises, 8 have an active joint HIV/AIDS committee, 5 have adopted a written HIV/AIDS workplace policy, 4 have established a condom distribution service and 5 have made available information on sexually transmitted infections and 3 on voluntary, counseling and testing facilities.

Satemwa Tea Estate, is one of those successful enterprises, it is one of the oldest and biggest tea factories in the southern region, which was facing high levels of absenteeism. Management was very keen to do something about HIV, but didn't know how to make a start. In collaboration with the ILO, focal points were trained in each division; an HIV committee was set up and a first draft of an HIV policy developed by workers and managers.

Satemwa has developed a condom strategy called tolani nokha (self service). Supplies of condoms are left at reception and staffs help themselves. "Now we don't need to go to the clinic and request a condom, we just pass through the reception and help ourselves and we are not ashamed," explains one of the many workers who are benefiting.

Supervisors pass on messages about HIV during working hours, either while they are monitoring the tea picking or before work, when employees gather for the distribution of tasks for the day. The company has also developed a list of HIV services available locally, in response to requests from workers.

With the financial support of the United States Department of Labour (USDOL) the ILO project is now reaching 10 workplaces from the agriculture, banking and hospitality sectors. The project also works with the National Association of Business Women (NABW) representing the informal sector. In Malawi alone over 24, 000 workers benefit from workplace interventions with support from the Strategic HIV/AIDS Response by Enterprise (SHARE) project. Worldwide, the project is active in over 650 workplaces in 24 countries covering almost one million workers.

Malawi has developed a draft National Policy on HIV/AIDS in the Workplace in consultation with the employers' and workers' organizations. Should the policy be adopted; the country will join the ranks of 16 countries where SHARE is implementing projects that have adopted a national tripartite declaration on HIV and the world of work. The next step will be to advocate for increasing the number of enterprises adopting similar policies at the enterprise level.

To build national capacity in the development of workplace policies and programmes a total of 58 officials from the Ministry of Labour, 19 employers and 160 representatives of trade unions were trained.

Success in developing HIV policies is firmly rooted in the collaboration between workers and their employers. The new ILO report entitled "Saving lives, Protecting jobs" highlights a number of policies on HIV/AIDS at the enterprise and national levels including instances where policies are included in collective bargaining agreements.

The report also tracks changes in attitudes related to HIV and presents a series of good practices and data collected from workplaces, ministries of labour, employers' and workers' organizations collaborating with the ILO.

"SHARE helps to protect the ILO's constituents from HIV, which challenges the implementation of its decent work agenda." said Dr Sophia Kisting, Director of the ILO Programme on HIV/AIDS and the world of work. "Several countries offer outstanding examples of how they address HIV/AIDS using the workplace for prevention, care and support, and to tackle stigma and discrimination", she added.

Over the last four years the ILO has gathered data from managers and workers at partner workplaces in six pilot countries to measure the impact of HIV/AIDS activities and non-discrimination policies. In Belize, Benin, Cambodia, Ghana, Guyana and Togo, workers demonstrated a marked improvement in attitudes towards people living with HIV. In all six countries surveyed, the proportion of workers who reported supportive behaviour towards co-workers living with HIV rose from 49 per cent to 63 per cent on average during the life of the programme. Attitudes towards condom use also improved considerably in most countries. Across all six countries, the percentage of workers who reported using condoms with non-regular partners rose from 74 per cent to 84 per cent.

The recorded changes in behaviour could be attributed in part to increased access to HIV services in enterprises in all six countries. At the start of SHARE in 2003, only 14 per cent of the participating enterprises in the six pilot countries had written HIV policies. When the impact survey was conducted 76 per cent of the participating enterprises had written HIV policies in place. The report shows that employers' and workers' organizations are increasingly using the ILO's Code of Practice on HIV/AIDS to develop policies and practices for the workplace.

Similar data will be made available to assess impact of strategic intervention in Malawi workplaces in 2009.

The launch of the SHARE report is to be followed by a series of events in a campaign to highlight changing patterns on HIV/AIDS in the world of work. A film featuring partner enterprises and leaders will also be launched by the ILO. The film entitled "Creating change" will be available later this year.

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