Government's long-awaited code of practice on HIV/AIDS in the workplace has virtually outlawed testing and will compel employers to adopt concrete anti-discrimination policies. Published in the Government Gazette on Friday, the new code allows companies to ask the Labour Court to authorise tests only when the employee has given his or her consent.
In terms of the code, agreed to by parties to the National Economic, Development and Labour Council (Nedlac), employers and trade unionists will now be expected to develop integrated strategies to eradicate HIV/AIDS discrimination in their workplaces and support those already living with the disease. The code applies to all employer-employee relationships, including those in the informal sector.
According to a study conducted by the SA Institute of Race Relations, 25% of SA's workforce will be HIV-positive by 2005 and some 10-million people will have died of the disease by 2015. Another survey, conducted by ING Barings, predicts that SA's GDP will decline by an annual 0.4% between 2006 and 2010 as a direct result of HIV/AIDS.
By formulating a code of practice on HIV/AIDS and work, government and its social partners are trying to minimise the impact of the disease while protecting those already living with it from discrimination.
Dr Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, the health minister painfully admitted on Friday that members of her own family are HIV-positive. Addressing a media briefing during World AIDS Day, she said: I also have friends, and relatives, who are infected with the virus - so for me it is also a very special day. Tshabalala-Msimang is one of several high-profile South Africans to reveal that they have been affected by the epidemic, which has hit one in every five adult South Africans aged between 15 and 49.
Around Gauteng, people gathered to be reminded of what is the biggest health threat to South Africa. Some heard that while condoms are handed out for free in urban areas, rural folk don't have access to them. Others were told that people with HIV would have to wait several months until they have access to free life-saving drugs.
The United Nations and World Health Organisation this week reported that sub-Saharan Africa saw 3,8 million new HIV infections this year, bringing the total number of people with HIV in the region, the hardest hit in the world, to 25,3 million.