THE Jamaica Manufacturer's Association (JMA) is partnering with the Ministry of Labour and Social Security (MLSS), in a pilot project aimed at reducing the levels of discrimination against persons living with HIV/AIDS who work in the local food services industry.
Under a recently signed agreement, 15 companies will participate in workshops and the training of personnel, as well as post notices against discrimination in their manufacturing entities and food outlets.
Director of Occupational Safety and Health in the Labour Ministry Robert Chung explained that the project is seeking to help members of the public understand that they will not be endangered by eating food prepared or served by a person who is HIV positive.
He pointed out that the food industry is particularly susceptible to discrimination as "one incident or suspected incident of HIV/AIDS can close that establishment".
Chung said the ministry was also promoting the highest standards of hygienic preparation of food and so the participating establishments would be getting its highest stamp of approval.
He added that by participating in the project, the companies are acknowledging that HIV cannot be transmitted through food and so they will not stigmatise and discriminate against anyone who has the disease.
The collaboration between the JMA and the ministry is part of ongoing efforts at the national level for HIV/AIDS reduction and prevention through a rights-based approach.
Chung, meanwhile, hailed the initiative as a significant step towards debunking the myths surrounding HIV/AIDS.
"We are promoting the food preparation industry in Jamaica to show that we are competitive in international standards; that we are using the highest standards of hygiene and hygienic preparations to serve food in Jamaica," he stated.
The pilot project, which runs for six months, covers subject areas such as information and public relations; education and training; 10 key principles of the International Labour Organisation in dealing with people with HIV and AIDS; and educating the public about HIV/AIDS. .
"This is a unique project and the whole world is looking at us to see how it will work. We will be able to promulgate this right through the region and secondly maybe throughout the world," the director said.
For her part, Business Development and Projects Manager at the JMA Camisha Turner said that since HIV/AIDS impacts significantly on labour, productivity and profitability, the JMA and its membership welcomed the opportunity to communicate a positive message to the public.
"We know that HIV/AIDS cannot be passed on in the preparation of food and as the (Jamaica) Manufacturing Association, we want to help the Ministry of Labour and likewise the Ministry of Health to reduce this level of stigmatisation," Turner said.
"We are hoping that through this project many Jamaicans, particularly those that go into food entities especially the restaurants, will see the information and be able to know that HIV/AIDS is not passed on this way. So we are hoping that it will have a great impact in lowering the stigma and discrimination," she states.
The White Paper on the National Workplace Policy on HIV and AIDS was recently tabled in the Houses of Parliament.
The policy is a framework for action by the Government, employers, and workers to deal effectively with HIV/AIDS in places of employment. It is based on the International Labour Organization's (ILO) principles on HIV/AIDS in the workplace.
It takes into consideration, the effects of HIV and AIDS on the most productive segment of the workforce (persons up to 49 years old), and acknowledges that effective prevention and management of the epidemic in and through the workplace, will benefit all national stakeholders.