December 1 marks the 23rd World Aids Day. The first such event was held in 1988 under the theme, “Join the worldwide effort”. That was 22 years ago. It is also 22 years ago that the Federation of Kenya Employers (FKE) issued the first guidelines on HIV and Aids at the workplace. This started off the process of guiding, supporting and advising employers on managing issues around the syndrome to prevent discrimination against affected employees, enable them to live normal lives, and contain the spread of HIV.
Since then, FKE has released a number of editions of guidelines and codes of conduct. Through that journey, many employers have been encouraged to use the codes to develop HIV and Aids policies in line with their specific workplace circumstances.
The latest to be put together by FKE and the Central Organisation of Trade Unions, with the support of the International Labour Organisation, is the “National Code of Practice on HIV and Aids in the Workplace”, released in June last year. The response towards these efforts has been encouraging. However, 22 years on, some private sector organisations are still struggling to implement policies on HIV and Aids. With statistics reminding us that one out of every 10 people with HIV go to work somewhere every day, the importance of putting in place HIV and Aids programmes and policies to manage behaviour at the workplace need not be overstated.
The effects of workplace activities to manage HIV and Aids can be far-reaching, given the above statistic.
Generally, HIV and Aids workplace programmes are meant to guide both employer and employee activity in providing an understanding and supportive workplace environment for those who are affected.
Stigma and discrimination are usually the first items to tackle. These programmes also promote and guide activities aimed at educating employees and preventing further spread of HIV, so that there is minimum disruption of productivity. The whole process is driven towards creating a workplace environment that allows and promotes continuity of healthy living.
Workplace policies and programmes on HIV and Aids were started out of the concern that the syndrome had the potential to seriously disrupt work productivity if not contained. It had been noted that HIV and Aids affected mostly the populations in the most productive age groups. That referred to the youth and people in middle age. The fear was that if the conditions of those affected were not managed in ways that would allow them to continue working and also prevent further spread, the strength of the workforce in would be exposed to significant threats. These would come in the form of frequent absenteeism through sick offs and, ultimately, attrition.
The loss of experienced personnel would imply additional costs for the employer. The company would have to conduct replacement recruitment and most probably fresh training. The side effects would be the time and opportunities lost in between. These examples illustrate the point. It is, therefore, in the interest of employers that they join the war against spread of HIV. It is also in their interest that they seek ways of supporting HIV management practices that would allow affected employees to continue to be productive in the organisation.
The latest initiative is to encourage private sector organisations to share ideas on how to implement inspiring workplace policies and practices for managing the syndrome. The First National Private Sector HIV and Aids Symposium and Awards today in Nairobi is driven towards that effort.
Its broad objective is to enhance learning among private sector players for improved workplace HIV and Aids policies and programmes. To encourage creativity and innovativeness in workplace management of HIV and Aids, from this year onwards awards will be issued to private sector organisations that have implemented impressive policies.
It is intended that the symposium and awards will become an annual event in recognition of the efforts and initiatives of employers in the fight against HIV and Aids at the workplace. There will be several categories to recognise employers with a comprehensive workplace policy and those with the best community engagement. The third category will recognise networking, partnerships and mentorships.
If you have in place an HIV and Aids policy in the workplace that you are proud of, join us to claim your merited recognition.
Mrs Mugo is the Executive Director of the Federation of Kenya Employers.