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Apr 5, 2006

AIDS seminar focuses on workplace issues

Story PictureWith estimates of the number of Belizeans infected with the HIV virus ranging from six thousand on up, it is no longer possible for the epidemic to be ignored by any sector of society. And with those most affected falling into the fifteen to forty-nine age group, the impact of AIDS is being increasingly felt in the nation’s labour force. News Five’s Kendra Griffith reports on efforts to deal with several facets of a growing problem.

Kendra Griffith, Reporting
The fifty men and women gathered today at the Biltmore Plaza represent the management of a wide cross section of companies, unions, and organisations. They were brought together by the National AIDS Commission, which is trying to enlist employers in the fight against HIV/AIDS, particularly stigma and discrimination on the job.

Dolores Balderamos-Garcia, Chairperson, National AIDS Commission
?That when participants leave here today they won?t just go home and say, well that was a nice day, but they will actually do something about it in their workplaces, because HIV/AIDS is with us and it will be with us for quite a while to come we know and the efforts have to continue apace.?

And those efforts are now focussed on the implementation of workplace policies.

Dolores Balderamos-Garcia
?A policy for a workplace can be as simply as two sentences or three sentences or a paragraph, it doesn?t have to be a fifty page document. Once you say: we support persons living with HIV, we want to be a part of prevention efforts, we want to reduce stigma and discrimination, and we want to do our part, because as Belizeans we are all in this boat together.?

One company that is taking a proactive approach to the HIV situation is Belize Electricity Limited. The utility has drafted and will soon enact guidelines to add to its existing safety and human resource policies, thereby protecting the company and its two hundred and seventy-eight employees.

Philip Waight, Safety and Training Engineer, BEL
?As you look at it right now, the statistics are quite alarming and we figure that before it gets out of control, there?s need for us to work on a prevention method. And we figure that it could be quite costly if one does not work to minimise or reduce the possibility of HIV in the workplace in general.?

?I think that the whole idea of a policy and a programme, getting a policy draft and put it in place and get a programme in place and also get a whole safety aspect, I must emphasise the whole safety aspect of it, you do well for both the company and the employees, so it?s a win-win situation that you get involved in.?

Helping companies get on board with the idea of a specific HIV/AIDS policy is the International Labour Organisation. According to the I.L.O.?s National Project Coordinator in Belize, Sheila Middleton, the size of the company or organisation should not be a deterrent.

Sheila Middleton, National Project Coordinator, ILO
?We want to have something in place if we are to encounter somebody in the workplace that is HIV positive that there is a support system and a way that we will deal with them, that we will not discriminate, we will not fire them because of their status, because they are healthy people and they can work and contribute to society.?

?It?s not only to have a workplace policy, but also to have a workplace education programme for the employees, because those are the two things that are happening at the same time with the companies that we are working. They are expected to do a workplace policy, as well as have a workplace education programme whereby the employees are educated about HIV and AIDS.?

In the meantime, those involved in the fight are hopeful of what the future will bring

Dolores Balderamos-Garcia
?We have a long way to go, but I do believe that what we are seeing happening with all the various agencies on board that we are very much in the right direction right now.?

Kendra Griffith reporting for News Five.

According to Middleton, the I.L.O. is currently working with eighteen companies, nine of which have drafted workplace policies.

Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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