By Desie Heita
Members to the Agricultural Employers Association have made a commitment to provide affordable access to appropriate HIV/AIDS treatment, care, support and management for HIV infected farm workers and their families.
“Employers in the commercial agricultural sector shall, as far as reasonably possible, facilitate access to affordable treatment for HIV, including anti-retrovirals for all employees who need it,” said the Agricultural Employers Association (AEA).
The AEA has produced the first HIV policy for commercial farmers that it presented to its members at the annual congress this week.
The document, titled ‘Policy on Managing HIV/AIDS within the Commercial Agricultural Sector’, pledges to employ able-bodied HIV infected people as farm workers, promote a non-discriminatory working environment, address the working conditions specific to the commercial agricultural sector that renders their employees more vulnerable to HIV infection.
The commitment is part of the AEA’s commitment to raise awareness and assist farm workers on HIV/AIDS.
No employees would be dismissed simply because he or she is HIV or AIDS positive. “HIV infected employees should continue to work under normal conditions in their current employment as long as they are medically fit to do so,” read the document.
If an employee becomes too ill to perform duties, “the employer shall investigate the extent of the incapacity and accommodate the employee in alternative employment in so far as reasonably possible”.
Although at times employers in the agricultural sector may require prospective employees to undergo medical screening tests, the AEA said “pre-employment medical examination shall not include HIV tests and no applicant for employment shall be required to undertake an HIV test in order to ascertain his or her HIV status”.
Further, HIV infected employees “would not be tested for HIV for the purpose of continued employment, promotion, training or transfer”.
The policy is not a mere window dressing as the document says all the recognised employers and employee representatives “will be held responsible for implementing this HIV/AIDS policy and will be accountable for complying with the policy”.
The AEA has earlier conducted an HIV awareness campaign in the agricultural sector and did a survey on the occurrence of HIV/AIDS, availability of medical facilities and medical insurance among farm workers.
This was done in conjunction with PharmAccess, a Dutch organisation focused on making health care available to people without medical insurance.