End the prej­u­dice

De­spite more than 20 years ago of ed­u­ca­tion dis­crim­i­na­tion against HIV suf­fer­ers is still rife in the work­place, writes Claire Mackay

The Herald Business - - Special Report -

MORE than 60,000 peo­ple are liv­ing with HIV in the UK, and 7,000 more are di­ag­nosed each year. Un­for­tu­nately, some of th­ese peo­ple also have to live with dis­crim­i­na­tion in their work­place. With around 40m peo­ple in the world now with HIV, one of the main aims of World AIDS Day, on De­cem­ber 1, is to tackle the ig­no­rance and prej­u­dice that not only sur­round the con­di­tion – but that also con­trib­ute to the spread of what is a pre­ventable dis­ease.

Alec Deary works at the Fife Men Project in Kirk­caldy, which pro­motes les­bian, gay, bi­sex­ual and trans­gen­der health and well­be­ing, and is also a lo­cal Uni­son ac­tivist.

He has been in­volved in a num­ber of work­place dis­crim­i­na­tion cases, first through ne­go­ti­a­tion – and then through train­ing and ed­u­ca­tion. “At first I could hardly be­lieve one sit­u­a­tion, where an in­di­vid­ual’s work­mates were re­fus­ing to use their key­board in case they ‘caught some­thing’,” says Deary. “But then I re­alised many younger peo­ple have not seen the ad­ver­tis­ing cam­paigns of the 1980s, and there is still a big prob­lem with ig­no­rance sur­round­ing HIV and AIDS.

“We ap­proached this through train­ing and de­vel­op­ment, treat­ing it both as a health and safety is­sue and also as a di­ver­sity is­sue. It was all very in­for­mal and non-threat­en­ing, and ed­u­ca­tion was the key.

“We can also be in­volved in mak­ing sure there is pro­vi­sion and back-up in work­places for those peo­ple un­der­go­ing com­bi­na­tion ther­apy for HIV. Some­times side ef­fects can be un­pleas­ant, some­times an in­di­vid­ual may just need to sit qui­etly for 20 min­utes.

“It’s im­por­tant to ne­go­ti­ate this as you would con­cern­ing any­one with a se­ri­ous ill­ness, while also look­ing at ed­u­ca­tion and aware­ness sur­round­ing the other is­sues, such as stig­ma­ti­sa­tion.

“This kind of sit­u­a­tion is be­com­ing more com­mon, as a re­sult of the longevity that now ac­com­pa­nies HIV, with de­te­ri­o­ra­tion in the con­di­tion not hap­pen­ing for around 25 years.

“Gen­er­ally, in all th­ese cases, the re­sponse is a pos­i­tive one. Em­ploy­ers are usu­ally keen for dif­fi­cul­ties to be re­solved, as for them it’s also about re­ten­tion of staff. In our ex­pe­ri­ence, poe­ple with long-term ill­ness want to con­tinue work­ing, and with the right in­for­ma­tion and sup­port, they can man­age their ill­ness ap­pro­pri­ately.

“In this, and in cases of dis­crim­i­na­tion, we want to be part of the so­lu­tion, through ne­go­ti­a­tion and pol­icy de­vel­op­ment with em­ploy­ers.”

Last De­cem­ber, the Dis­abil­ity Dis­crim­i­na­tion Act was ex­tended to pro­tect peo­ple with HIV, along with some other dis­eases, from dis­crim­i­na­tion from the day of di­ag­no­sis.

It doesn’t mean peo­ple with HIV or AIDS should con­sider them­selves dis­abled – and they don’t have to tell their em­ployer they have HIV (un­less legally obliged, such as peo­ple who work with blood).

But it does mean it is against the l aw to dis­crim­i­nate against some­one, through re­cruit­ment or at work, be­cause of HIV sta­tus.

The way for­ward, says Uni­son, is through dis­cus­sion and ne­go­ti­a­tion, de­vel­op­ing poli­cies in part­ner­ship with em­ploy­ers – and train­ing and de­vel­op­ment of staff.

“More and more peo­ple are liv­ing longer with HIV, and treat­ments are in­creas­ingly suc­cess­ful,” says John Keg­gie, Uni­son Scot­tish Or­gan­iser, and Scot­tish health and safety com­mit­tee sec­re­tary.

“This means that em­ploy­ers should be car­ry­ing out their du­ties and re­spon­si­bil­i­ties even more se­ri­ously. They should be mak­ing rea­son­able ad­just­ments to work­places and to con­di­tions, where re­quired, en­sur­ing staff are prop­erly trained and es­tab­lish­ing poli­cies and prac­tices that are f a i r and nondis­crim­i­na­tory.

“Peo­ple with HIV have enough to deal with, with­out hav­ing to cope with any con­se­quent dis­crim­i­na­tion.”

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