The five largest trade unions in the country have come together to rouse workers, not against the violation of labour laws but against a common and deadly enemy — the HIV virus.
For the first time, the unions cutting across party lines have signed a joint statement with promises that they would do their bit to spread awareness about the virus and making workplaces safer. The membership of the five unions runs into several lakhs covering nearly all work sectors.
The statement, released in the form of a booklet, approves the guidelines given in the ILO Code of Practice on HIV/AIDS, in which the unions said that they recognised HIV/AIDS as a workplace issue.
There is an estimated 2.5 to 3.1 million people in India who are living with HIV/AIDS and nearly 90 per cent of the reported HIV infections in India are in the 15-49 years age group.
"HIV/AIDS is a workplace issue, not only because it affects the workforce, but also because the workplace can play a vital role in limiting the spread and effects of the epidemic," the unions said.
On the question as to how trade unions can intervene in a health issue, the statement said: “Trade unions are key actors at the workplace and well placed to work in arresting the spread of HIV/AIDS in collaboration with employers. Since they share the same background as the people they represent, their messages are likely to be more accepted.”
The policy, they said, should be designed to prevent the spread of the infection and protect all workers from discrimination related to HIV/AIDS. The Unions also promised to provide information on HIV/AIDS in the workplace and to initiate prevention interventions to workers in the unorganised sector.