Positive rights

RBI frames HIV/AIDS workplace policy, experts want national law

By Ritu Gupta
Published: Wednesday 31 August 2005

Positive rights

A recent move by the Reserve Bank of India (rbi) has highlighted a pressing challenge confronting the society, that of guaranteeing the professional rights of hiv/aids patients. The country's banker announced its hiv/aids workplace policy on J uly 15, 2005, which states: "Employees living with hiv/aids shall be afforded the same rights and privileges, and will have the same obligations, as all other employees." rbi would also not undertake any pre-employment hiv/aids testing.

Experts believe such policies signal that the hiv / aids menace is finally being 'socially' accepted in India, especially among employers. "Earlier, Indian employers were in the 'denial mode'. They thought hiv/aids was confined to sex workers," points out S M Afsar, technical specialist, hiv/aids, International Labour Organisation (ilo), New Delhi. " Such policies... ensure that the employees will not lose their jobs once their hiv/aids positive status is known," he adds.

Some other organisations have also taken similar steps. Hindustan Construction Company, Ashok Leyland, Hindustan Lever and dcm Shriram are some that have initiated aids awareness programmes among employees. Big players like the Steel Authority of India and Damodar Valley Corporation have introduced policies similar to rbi's . Claims Nandini Kapoor of the Joint United Nations Programme on hiv/aids (unaids), New Delhi, "such policies are a result of the extensive information about hiv/aids being made available in India."

Introduction of a workplace policy has other advantages, like work adjustments to suit a patients condition and medical support. "But effective implementation must be ensured, especially since India hasn't got a national policy backed by law to ensure that employers do not discriminate against hiv/aids positive people," says Tripti Tandon, project officer, Lawyers Collective, a New Delhi-based non-governmental organisation (ngo). Afsar points out that naco's guidelines hardly talk about workplace discrimination.

"The concept of discrimination is incorporated in Articles 14, 15 and 16 of the Constitution as Fundamental Rights. But this is available only against the State...Private individuals/bodies can only be prevented from discriminating by specific anti-discrimination legislation," explains Sarita Jadav of United Nations Development Fund for Women, South Asia regional office, New Delhi. She says in many cases, despite the existence of policies like rbi's, employees are not aware of them.
An ilo study that interviewed 292 hiv positive employees, most of them working for ngos dealing with hiv/aids, highlights how disparaging the situation is . Contrary to expectations of a greater sensitivity at such workplaces, about six per cent interviewees reported discrimination; 33 per cent got no benefits, 25 per cent were denied promotion and 25 per cent forced to take voluntary retirement. One victim was sacked though the employer was a medical practitioner.

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