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May 28, 2001

Citing new data showing some 23 million workers worldwide now infected with HIV/AIDS, the Director-General of the International Labour Organization (ILO) Juan Somavia plans to formally launch a pioneering Code of Practice on HIV/AIDS and the World of Work* at the U.N General Assembly Special Session on HIV/AIDS in New York.

The ILO Code of Practice will provide workers, employers and governments with new global guidelines - based on international labour standards - for addressing HIV/AIDS and its impact at the enterprise, community and national levels where most infections occur. It will also help boost efforts to prevent the spread of HIV, manage its impact, provide care and support for those suffering from its effects and staunch stigma and discrimination which arise from it.

"This Code focuses on the world of work because so many people with HIV can be found there," Mr. Somavia said. "Of the 36 million people infected with HIV worldwide, we estimate at least 23 million, or three-quarters, are working people aged 15-49 - often our most productive people, people in the prime of their lives."

Mr. Somavia will discuss the new Code of Practice and its global implementation with United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan, as well as UN Member States, workers' representatives, key business leaders and others attending the three-day global AIDS summit.

New ILO data prepared for the AIDS session show that of the estimated 23 million working people suffering from HIV/AIDS, about 17.5 million, or the vast majority, are in 43 African states, where Mr. Somavia said, the HIV epidemic has created "a state of emergency." Data for other regions of the world show some 3.5 million people with HIV in Asia, 700,000 in North America, 226,000 in the Carribean, 416,000 in Latin America and 543,000 in Europe.

The Code of Practice is part of new ILO efforts to mitigate the impact of HIV/AIDS in the workplace. While seeking to promote prevention in countries where the epidemic already has a strong grip, it is also designed to help prevent infection rates from increasing in relatively unaffected countries. What is more, it also provides guidance on such issues as testing, screening and confidentiality, non-discrimination in employment, and gender issues.

"AIDS and HIV affect people at all levels of society, but it has a profound impact on workers and their families, enterprises, employers, and national economies," Mr. Somavia said. "As it affects the most economically active members of society, it reduces earnings, productivity, skills and experience while imposing huge costs on enterprises, labour and governments. Thus, AIDS is not only a workplace issue, but a challenge to development worldwide."

Key principles of the Code:

HIV/AIDS should be treated like any other serious illness/conditions. This is necessary because the workplace, as part of the local community, can play a vital role in the wider struggle to limit the spread and effects of the epidemic.

Workers, employers and governments should collaborate to promote prevention, particularly in changing attitudes and behaviours through the information and education, and in addressing socio-economic factors.

In the spirit of decent work and respect for the human rights and dignity of persons infected or affected by HIV/AIDS, there should be no discrimination and stigmatization against workers on the basis of real or perceived HIV status.

The gender dimensions of HIV/AIDS should be recognized. More equal gender relations and the empowerment of women are vital to successfully preventing the spread of HIV infection and enabling women to cope with HIV/AIDS.

HIV/AIDS screening should not be required of job applicants or persons in employment and testing for HIV should not be carried out at the workplace except as specified in this code. Even outside the workplace, testing for HIV should involve voluntary informed consent and be performed by qualified personnel only, in conditions of strictest confidentiality.

Asking job applicants, workers or co-workers to disclose HIV-related personal information is unjustified. Access to personal data relating to a worker's HIV status should be bound by the rules of confidentially consistent with existing ILO's codes of practice.

HIV infection is not cause for termination for employment and persons with HIV-related illnesses should be able to work for as long as medically fit in available, appropriate work.

There should be no discrimination against workers and their dependants living with HIV/AIDS in access to and receipt of benefits from statutory social security programmes and occupational schemes.

Successful implementation of an HIV/AIDS policy and programme requires social dialogue between employers, workers and their representatives and government, where appropriate, with the active involvement of workers infected or affected by HIV/AIDS.

"The new Code is the most wide-ranging and comprehensive blueprint for workplace policy on HIV/AIDS ever developed and addresses this present situation as well as its future consequences for the world of work," Mr. Somavia said. "The Code is not just about policy and guidelines. It is about respecting the dignity of others and learning to live with the reality of HIV/AIDS."

For more information, you can contact by e-mail Mrs Zoreh Tabatabai, Director of the Department of Communications ( tabatabaiz@ilo.org) or Thomas Netter (netter@ilo.org), ILO Press Officer on his cellular phone at ++ 011 41 78 7949020. From 22 to 27 June, week-end included, in our New-York office, a telephone line will be staffed alternatively by Ms Zenaida Chichioco (chichioco@lo.org) and Ms Rhitu Siddarth at ++ 1-212-697 0150, extension 107. For Geneva, forward your requests to François Charlier (charlier@ilo.org), ILO Press Officer at ++ 41 22 799 8506 or at ++ 41 78 814 5711 (mobile). An information kit and pocket-sized copies of the code are available. For more information, see www.ilo.org/AIDS, or contact ILOAIDS@ilo.org

For more information at http://www.ilo.org

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