Global action kit deployed to tackle HIV among port workers

(Originally published by Equal Times)
Translations: Español | Francais 

Photo by Claus Bunks/ Wikipedia Commons
Millions of port workers around the world have been issued with a new HIV/AIDS resource pack in attempt to stem the global spread of the epidemic within the maritime industry.

Published by the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF), HIV/AIDS and port workers – a resource pack for unions is a prevention toolkit that aims to provide “strategies, facts and advice” for port sector workers.

ITF president and dockers’ section chair Paddy Crumlin said of the resource pack: “The ITF is an organisation representing the best interests of transport workers around the world; it would be impossible to fulfill that role without addressing the issue of HIV/AIDS. This is a union issue.”

The kit – which is available in English, French, German, Spanish and Swedish – follows a 2011 global survey by the ITF which led to calls for union action in educating port workers on the effects of AIDS, and protecting those living with the disease from discrimination.

Most of the 34 million people living with HIV/AIDS around the world are workers and transport is one of the most heavily affected sectors. As working men and women lost their health, their jobs and in many cases their lives, the impact of their families and communities can be devastating.

Sharon James, ITF dockers’ section secretary told Equal Times that unions have a responsibility to provide information and resources to help workers and employers deal with the effects of the disease in the maritime industry.

“Battling HIV/AIDS and the stigma that surrounds it is the responsibility of all of us. There is a huge role for workers, unions and employers. The new guide sets out ways that everyone can and should be involved, and is designed to put the practical means of tackling the effects of HIV/AIDS in the hands of dock workers and their unions,” said James.

In 2012, a study by the UN programme, UNAIDS, found a higher prevalence of HIV/AIDS among port workers around the world, compared with the general population. The figures are attributed to poor working conditions, a lack of access to health information and the widespread availability of alcohol, drugs and sexual partners, among other factors.

“Ports are transport hubs that bring together a complex mix of nationalities and service providers in multiple interactions,” said Dr Asif Altaf, HIV/AIDS coordinator at the ITF.

“They are likely to have a predominantly male workforce, in some places with a disposable income higher than that of many in the surrounding area – who can be drawn to the port to match the need of those passing through it for rest, recreation and entertainment. Like many transport hubs and the wider communities they serve, ports cannot escape the need to recognise the possible threat from HIV/AIDS.”

According to a report by the Stigma Index, 9 in 10 people living with HIV/AIDS are workers. Zuzanna Muskat-Gorska, the global trade union coordinator on HIV/AIDS at the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) argues that these figures highlight the need for unions to ensure that workers in all sectors living with HIV/AIDS are not discriminated against.

“More than one third of people living with HIV are reporting loss of employment, denial of health care, social or vocational exclusion and /or involuntary disclosure of their HIV status in their place of work,”

“Tackling HIV is not just about fighting a virus. It is about fighting gender and income inequality, social marginalisation, unfair discrimination, low wages, job insecurity and unaccountable government. No one can achieve these aims alone, but together we can make it happen.”