ITUC Statement: 2013 World AIDS Day

On the World AIDS Day (WAD), taking place on 1 December 2013, the ITUC commemorates the many millions of people who have lost their lives to HIV/AIDS, and pays tribute to those living with HIV and those who have fought to bring attention to the epidemic and advocate for action.

Despite the progress achieved, still 2.3 million people were newly infected with HIV in 2012. 66% of those most in need lack access to life-saving treatment (1) and people infected and affected by HIV continue suffering from discrimination, stigmatisation and deprivation of rights. Sub-Saharan Africa remains the region most affected, with two thirds of the total number of People Living with HIV (PLHIV) as well as two thirds of both new HIV infections and new AIDS-related deaths that occurred in 2012. But HIV/AIDS is also threatening many other countries and regions.

Trade unions are vigorously committed to uphold their strong and continued leadership in confronting health inequalities and HIV/AIDS in the world of work and to ensure that the progress and investments already made will not erode.
Trade unions will therefore highlight the 2011-2015 WAD theme, “Getting to zero: zero new HIV infections. Zero discrimination. Zero AIDS-related deaths", to call for more social justice, equality and fairness of the future action, the recognition of the role of the world of work in the AIDS response, as well as special attention to gender-sensitive approaches.

HIV and AIDS continue to disproportionately affect women all around the globe. Each minute, one young woman is infected by HIV. Women are at least twice as likely to acquire HIV from men than vice versa. HIV is driven by gender inequalities and harmful gender norms, including gender violence and sexual harrassment as well as by poverty, discrimination and social exclusion. The global economic crisis has a far-reaching effect on women, exacerbating their historically disadvantaged position.

This impact is not adequately captured by statistics, as it is extremely difficult to track the effects of the economic crisis on either the informal economy or the reproductive (care/family) economy. Women continue to be heavily exposed to the HIV virus, to have severely restricted access to prevention and treatment, and, at the same time, heavily restricted access to quality jobs and social protection. At the same time, public health systems in most high HIV-prevalence countries do not have the capacity to provide the necessary nursing care and emotional support for the sick. It is women who carry the burden of care. This work continues to be unrecognised and unpaid.

All stakeholders need to take bold steps to break the trajectory of the AIDS epidemic.
That is why in June this year, ILO, UNAIDS, IOE and ITUC have launched the VCT@Work initiative, which aims at reaching 5 million women and men workers with voluntary and confidential counselling and testing by 2015, as a part of efforts to enable workers to know their HIV status and seek treatment if necessary.

The VCT@work campaign also helps us to work to get the rights’ framework in place. While HIV testing needs scaling up, we must make sure that it is always voluntary, fully confidential and trustful. Results of HIV testing must never endanger access to jobs, tenure, job security or opportunities for advancement, and workers must be fully protected against unauthorised disclosure of their HIV status. No discrimination on grounds of HIV status, health status, sexual orientation, gender, age, type or sector of work should be tolerated.

These workplace standards are an undeniable part of the decent work agenda. For that we need to strengthen policy and legal frameworks, at the national, sectoral and workplace level, as outlined in the ILO HIV and AIDS Recommendation n.200. The Recommendation was adopted in 2010, after a long struggle from the part of unions for a standard that makes workplaces free of discrimination and exploitation.

It is only decent work – with voice and rights – that addresses underlying vulnerabilities to HIV, empowers women and young men and provides youth with more stable and productive options for the future.

The ITUC is convinced that if governments have the political will and work in close coordination with the social partners, social protection and social justice can be made universal including in the poorest countries. Accordingly, the ITUC considers that the AIDS response should be situated within the broader development agenda and integrated with other human rights, development and health efforts. Consequently, in order not to risk the gains of the last decade, health and AIDS should be given a place in the post-2015 development framework.

Therefore, the ITUC wishes to highlight the importance of optimising the contribution of the world of work to the global HIV response in order to effectively achieve universal access. Addressing protection of workplace-related human rights of people living with or perceived to be living with HIV can lead to important public health, socio-economic and individual benefits.

Social protection is a global opportunity to confront the global economic crisis and its effects on people – and accelerate recovery. It has many potential entry points to influence health outcomes. For social protection to work, especially for prevention, multi-sectoral frameworks are required. Social protection should be included in the AIDS response and should be AIDS-sensitive, in order to increase realisation of equal rights and social justice as well as assistance and social services for all.

That is why the ITUC will continue to play a decisive role by strengthening its leadership in the response to HIV and AIDS and by better aligning trade union activities and advocacy to the changing context of HIV at the global, regional and national levels. The challenge now is to keep AIDS high on the agenda and to accelerate action to end the epidemic. The ITUC stays committed to the scaling up of the response of the global community and to support the achievement of all MDGs globally by 2015 including by accelerating progress in order to achieve universal access to HIV/AIDS prevention, treatment, care and support.

Moreover, trade unions are committed to support respect for human rights, and elimination of barriers of discrimination, stigma and exclusion in the achievement of universal access to HIV/AIDS prevention, treatment, care and support. The ITUC reaffirms its commitment to collective action to promote human rights and rights-based approaches to address HIV/AIDS.

The Global Union Federations play a highly significant role in various sector-specific aspects of HIV/AIDS at global, regional and national levels. The ITUC welcomes continued and common advocacy for HIV and AIDS and the world of work as well as joint efforts to make HIV/AIDS a priority for trade unions.

The ITUC reaffirms that this is not the time to weaken efforts to address HIV and AIDS. By continuing our work, strong and proactive political leadership, better governance and continued efforts to reduce inequities, we can progress towards the goal of universal access and open the road to a world with zero new HIV infections, zero stigma and discrimination, and zero deaths from AIDS.

1. People eligible for ARV treatment under the 2013 WHO guidelines (UNAIDS 2013)