JASL renews call for passage of safety and health law
Jamaica AIDS Support for Life Policy and Advocacy Officer Patrick Lalor addressing the JamaicaObserver Monday Exchange. Lalor said that JASL has been making interventions with companies toget them to establish policies in lieu of legislation. (Photo: Naphtali Junior)
NGO finds rampant workplace discrimination against people living with HIV

JAMAICA AIDS Support for Life (JASL) is urging lawmakers to quickly pass the occupational safety and health law which will force companies to implement policy to guide workplace treatment of people living with HIV/AIDS.

According to JASL, the lobby group and non-governmental organisation at the helm of Jamaica's fight against HIV/AIDS for the last 30 years, there is still rampant discrimination in the workplace against people living with HIV, or individuals suspected to be HIV-positive.

Addressing the issue at a recent Jamaica Observer Monday Exchange, JASL Policy and Advocacy Officer Patrick Lalor said there are still complaints of dismissals and constant discrimination at the workplace from people living with HIV and those in the at-risk groups.

“It's happening all over the place. It has not reduced,” he said, adding that JASL has been making interventions with companies to get them to establish policies in lieu of legislation.

The Occupational Safety and Health Bill has been in the making for almost three decades, leaving companies to come up with voluntary policies, and people living with HIV to grapple with various forms of discrimination in the workplace.

Pointing to a recent dismissal case which was headed to the Industrial Disputes Tribunal, but was eventually settled out of court between the two parties, Lalor said it was good that there was a settlement; however, test cases are needed to send a message and guide what will happen when the legislation comes.

“We wanted it to go all the way because one of the things we are missing in this area is test cases to say to employers, if you do this, this is what is going to happen. We want the Occupational Safety and Health Act to come in where companies can move away from this voluntary process to mandatory,” Lalor stressed.

At the same time, Lalor said he is not convinced that policy and lawmakers are vested in the legislation.

He noted that, prior to last year's passing of Labour and Social Security Minister Shahine Robinson, significant advancements were made in that regard, but JASL fears that provisions which were brought in relation to discrimination against people living with HIV in the workplace may be omitted in a new Bill.

“Minister Robinson passed, ministers changed and that somehow went on the back burner, and now I'm hearing conversations that they are trying to bring it back. One of the things defined in the legislation is, if you dismiss, demote, or take any negative action against a person because you think or you know they are HIV-positive, that is discriminatory conduct; that was an offence under the legislation. We don't see what it is now, so we fear that even good pieces like that may be removed,” he said.

Meanwhile, JASL says it has ramped up advocacy for policy and legislative changes on gender issues, making strong representation on multiple pieces of legislation, particularly over the last five years.

“We have representation in Parliament. In the last five years we have prepared and delivered submissions to Parliament on the Offences Against the Person Act, the Domestic Violence Act, the Child Care and Protection Act, the Data Protection Act, the Sexual Harassment Act,” Lalor said, noting that JASL's recommendations were accepted in the final report of the joint select committee on the Sexual Offences Act in 2018, but the recommendations were not reflected in the legislative amendments.

However, JASL was successful in having its recommendation to increase the reporting period for sexual harassment from 12 months to six years included in the final draft of the Sexual Harassment Bill.

The 30-year-old organisation currently provides just over 940 people living with HIV with treatment services, and is the largest human rights non-governmental organisations for HIV/AIDS in the Caribbean.

BY ALPHEA SUMNER Senior staff reporter saundersa@jamaicaobserver.com

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