Illegal HIV/AIDS ban - Labour ministry drops screening after being shamed by report
Tyrone Thompson, Staff Reporter
The Ministry of Labour and Social Security has admitted to breaching its own rules by screening out persons living with HIV/AIDS from the overseas employment programme.
The admission came after a report into the overseas employ-ment programme slammed the ministry for discriminating against persons living with HIV who applied to participate.
The report, authored by former national project officer for the International Labour Organisation, Nasola Thompson, found that the HIV/AIDS test which was a part of the screening process for the overseas employment programme caused the ministry to rule out all applicants with a positive HIV status.
But permanent secretary in the ministry, Alvin McIntosh, says the HIV screening is now a thing of the past.
According to McIntosh, while there was an initial request from United States (US) to screen applicants for HIV, that requirement has since been removed.
"The HIV test was initially a requirement of the US in the very early years of the programme, but those requirements have changed and I am not aware of any requests from individual employees, where HIV-positive workers are concerned," McIntosh told The Sunday Gleaner.
"In any case, that is not the prerogative of the individual employers and we have discontinued HIV testing for the programme since we have received this report," added McIntosh, as he pointed to the work done by Thompson.
"We still maintain rigorous medical examinations, but that is to fulfil our own requirements, not those from overseas. So far this year, we have sent over 14,000 persons to the United States and Canada untested, and we are positive that they will represent us well because we have built a strong reputation for supplying quality workers, especially in the field of agriculture," declared McIntosh
The labour ministry's initial decision to prevent persons living with HIV from participating in the overseas employment programme was in direct contradiction of the National Workplace Policy on HIV/AIDS, and the anti-discriminatory policies of the countries involved in the programme.
The National Workplace policy on HIV/AIDS, developed by the labour ministry, explicitly bans screening for purposes of exclusion from employment or work processes.
In her report, Thompson had noted that the discrimination was unique to Jamaica's labour ministry as other countries that take part in similar work programmes did not require an HIV test from its applicants.
According to Thompson, several local stakeholders were firm in their belief that excluding HIV-positive workers from the programme was an added value to Jamaica.
"Stakeholders involved in the programme wanted to send and receive the best possible workers so that the programme remained in good standing with employers and would continue and possibly be expanded over time," said Thompson.
The report charged that some employees of the labour ministry believe the exclusion of persons living with HIV from the overseas employment programme was a necessary evil.
"They argued that with increased competition from other countries, to send workers overseas who might fall ill while deployed could jeopardise the viability of the Jamaican programme," noted Thompson, as she quoted a labour ministry employee who claimed that the United States and Canada could stop taking Jamaican workers if illness prevented them from working.