11 September 2012

Uganda: 'Employers Pursue Interns for Sex'

Uganda's HIV/AIDS prevalence is likely to worsen due to the high rate at which employers resolutely pursue helpless student interns for sex, the ministry of gender, labour and social development has warned.

Bernard Mujuni, the assistant commissioner for labour inspectorate, called for legislation to protect interns at workplaces, saying many had become prey to their supervisors who infect them with HIV.

"There is a lot of sexual harassment going at workplaces and interns from universities are not always protected," said Mujuni.

"Even if they work hard, interns are not paid yet they have financial needs. Bosses end up take advantage of their being broke and in need of a good internship report to sleep with them. This has got to stop."

Mujuni made the remarks during a breakfast meeting in Kampala.

The gender ministry organised the meeting to orient legislators and judicial officials on the recent International Labour Organisation (ILO) recommendation concerning HIV/AIDS and the workplace.

Codenamed R200, the recommendation requires ILO member countries to streamline HIV/AIDs prevention, treatment, care and support at the workplace.

It asserts that HIV testing should remain voluntary and expects employers to put in place occupational safety and health measures to prevent workers' exposure to HIV.

Uganda's HIV prevalence currently stands at 7.3%, having increased from 6.4% in 2010. Over 13,000 new infections are recorded in the country each year.

The ILO estimates that of the approximately 38 million people living with HIV globally today, at least 26 million are workers.

Disability and elderly state minister, Sulaiman Madada, noted that high prevalence of HIV among workers was thwarting the Government's poverty eradication efforts.

"It is unfortunate that the effects of HIV are concentrated among the productive labour force which poses huge costs on economic enterprises through falling productivity, increased labour costs and loss of skills and experience," stated Madada, who also doubles as acting state minister for labour and employment.

The minister decried the fact that many workers continue to be discriminated against on suspicion of being HIV positive.

"Some are denied promotion, training and access to medical and sickness benefits. Some are forced to test for HIV and the results are communicated to others without regard to their right to confidentiality. This should stop."

Madada urged the judiciary to save HIV infected workers against segregation, saying that anti-discrimination policies and laws would achieve little unless strenuously enforced in court.

Workers' MP Theopista Nabulya called for the setting up of an industrial court where aggrieved workers, including those discriminated for being HIV positive, can get justice.

The gender ministry permanent secretary, Christine Guwatudde, urged employers to stop work patterns that increase the risk of workers contracting HIV.

She cited long hours at work, mobility and postings that separate spouses, sexual exploitation, rape and favours, poor and exploitative working conditions, and limited coverage of HIV/AIDS workplace interventions as some of the risky patterns.

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