Unions Call for Global Reengagement to End AIDS Epidemic

Union representatives taking part in this year’s International AIDS Conference (AIDS 2012) called for renewed international commitment to tackle the pandemic on the basis of shared ownership of the AIDS response. The delegation also pushed for action on HIV and AIDS in the workplace.

The conference was held from 22 to 27 July 2012 in Washington DC under the theme “Turning the Tide Together”, which was supported by workers based on the need to achieve:

- Zero employment-related discrimination on grounds of real or perceived HIV status;
- Zero new infections - through addressing socio-economic determinants of vulnerability to HIV infection, including those directly related to the world of work;
- Zero AIDS-related deaths – through addressing social injustice in access to treatment and through extending social protection, as a means to support individual and collective human development and productivity.

Close to 90% of 34 million people living today with HIV are workers, engaged in economically productive activity that sustains them and, by extension, their families and communities. For many, a positive HIV test result produces devastating consequences such as being stigmatized, rejected for hiring opportunities or even dismissed by employers.

The continued high cost of treatment and care is too high a hurdle for those who live on the precarious line between poverty and the middle class. Workers, communities and companies all lose when a worker becomes ill or is lost to AIDS. According to the unions, this is why any comprehensive strategy to address HIV/AIDS must include workplace-level interventions aimed at educating workers about HIV/AIDS and supporting those living and working with the virus.

We Can End AIDS

The issue of future funding of human rights and development worldwide remains a concern. In the mid-week through the Conference, trade unions joined a field of activists and supporters – among them many living with AIDS/HIV – to demand a Robin Hood tax to help end AIDS. Attendance reflected the concern worldwide as marchers hit the streets sounding: “We Can End AIDS”

The Conference reviewed the state of the AIDS debate and the need for continued trade union engagement. Additionally, as advances in medical treatments result in healthier workers with increased life spans, unions are working to ensure that they are free of discrimination and stigmatization, issues included in the social protection platform recommended by the ILO.

While development challenges are interdependent, international approaches to such problems are often dealt with in isolation with limited results. World leaders, including the World Bank Group president Jim Yong Kim, pledged to fight AIDS internationally to eradicate absolute poverty and address the other Millennium Development Goals. This is why participants and partner organisations may soon review how to join forces addressing these and other development challenges.

Unions’ role in combating HIV/AIDS

In conjunction with the Conference, the ITUC and the AFL-CIO hosted a one-day forum on July 21 on unions’ role in combating HIV/AIDS, with a particular focus on improving social protection and raising awareness among youth and young workers.

The forum highlighted examples of worker-driven HIV/AIDS programs from around the world, including Brazil, Nigeria, and South Africa. It also provided a platform for participants to interact with senior speakers from ILOAIDS, UNAIDS, World Bank and the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR).

AIDS 2012 was attended by unions from Sweden (LO-TCO), Brazil (Central Unica dos Trabalhadores), Ghana (Trade Union Congress Ghana), Nigeria (Nigeria Labour Congress and NUPENG), UK (Trade Union Congress), Canada (Canadian Labour Congress and Canadian Union of Public Employees), Kenya (Central Organization of Unions), Tanzania (Trade Union Congress of Tanzania), South Africa (Southern African Clothing and Textile Workers’ Union), as well as Union Aid Abroad APHEDA (Australia), International Transport Workers Federation, Industriall, Public Services International and the International Trade Union Confederation.

Participants highlighted the critical importance of developing future union interventions and asserting the key role of workplace strategies at the International AIDS Conferences. These events bring together international experts, policymakers, health workers, and those living with HIV to assess what needs to be done to continue the global fight against HIV/AIDS.