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A joint call by ITUC-Africa, CLC, CUPE and CAW to ensure work-based approaches to HIV/AIDS become part of the Political Declaration at the 2011 United Nations meeting on AIDS was successful. Canadian and African trade union activists built on the 2010 G8/G20 campaign on universal access to send a strong message to Canada and other governments. This is a big victory because the HIV and AIDS pandemic is one of the most significant challenges facing the world today.

Canadian labour delegates attended the United Nations High Level Meeting to ensure that the International Labour Organization (ILO) Recommendation 200 was part of the UN’s declaration. Recommendation 200 calls for the world of work to play a significant role in preventing HIV transmission and providing treatment, care, and support for HIV-affected workers and their families, as well as in protecting their human rights.

The Canadian labour delegation was led by CLC representative David Onyalo and included Rhonda Spence, international officer for CUPE, Ken Stuart, CAW national representative and Miranda Mason, CLC intern. The delegation worked with representatives of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) and Canadian civil society activists to lobby government representatives and to put forward a workers agenda for prevention and universal access to treatment and support. 

Labour activists supported this effort with letters and emails sent to Canada’s Minister of Health urging that the United Nations incorporate and strengthen “workplace-based” HIV and AIDS responses.

The United Nations General Assembly adopted a declaration at the end of its three-day high-level meeting on AIDS on Friday, June 10, setting targets to end AIDS and charting a global response for the next five years. Paragraph 85 of the declaration reads as follows:

Commit to mitigate the impact of the epidemic on workers, their families, their dependants, workplaces and economies, including by taking into account all relevant ILO conventions, as well as the guidance provided by the relevant ILO recommendations, including ILO Recommendation 200, and call on employers, trade and labour unions, employees and volunteers to eliminate stigma and discrimination protect human rights and facilitate access to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support;

Labour’s next step is to collaborate with employers and government to develop a broad strategy and workplace-based approaches. This will require legislation, policy changes, employer/union collaboration, and a clear timeline.

At the same time labour must scale up our partnership with Canadian civil society in the campaign for universal access, prevention, treatment and support.  Internationally, we will continue to strengthen our partnership with ITUC-Africa, and explore ways of to work more closely with both unions and civil society organizations worldwide.

Here are some statistics that support why workplace response is necessary: 36-56 per cent of persons living with HIV have experienced loss of employment; 40-61 per cent have experienced workplace discrimination, exclusion or forced disclosure of HIV status; and fewer than 60 per cent of countries reported having any mechanism to address cases of HIV-related discrimination. Only 30 countries worldwide have reported that they have adopted rules explicitly regulating HIV/AIDS in the workplace.