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Press Release

New ILO Study Warns of HIV/AIDS "Catastrophe" for Workers and Employers

Report prepared for launch of new ILO programme on HIV/AIDS in the world of work calls for urgent action by governments, workers and employers

June 7, 2000

In the first study of its kind, the International Labour Office (ILO) warns of catastrophic consequences of HIV/AIDS for workers and employers worldwide, projecting a severe decline in the size and quality of the workforce in a number of countries over the next 20 years.

"Surveillance information indicates that sub-Saharan Africa is the worst affected area and needs to be the focus of urgent action," the report HIV/AIDS: A threat to decent work, productivity and development * said. "Data and trends from other regions, however, indicate that effective and large-scale preventive interventions are required to avoid similar catastrophes elsewhere."

The report is to be discussed at a Special High-Level Meeting on HIV/AIDS and the World of Work, to be held on 8 June at the Organization's 88th International Labour Conference in Geneva. Addressing the plenary session will be Dr. Sam Nujoma, President of the Republic of Namibia; ILO Director-General Juan Somavia; Dr. Peter Piot, Executive Director of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS); and Ms. Mercy Elizabeth Makhalemele, Founder of the National Women's Alive AIDS Network of South Africa.

The meeting will also see the formal signing of a ILO/UNAIDS Cooperation Framework Agreement.


Severe impact in hard-hit countries

Based on an analysis of population data from Botswana, Cameroon, Ethiopia, Côte d'Ivoire, Haiti, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, South Africa, Tanzania, Thailand, Uganda and Zimbabwe, the ILO said there would be about 24 million fewer workers in those countries alone in the year 2020 as a result of the AIDS epidemic.

In eight African countries with HIV prevalence rates higher than 10% of the adult population -- Botswana, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Uganda and Zimbabwe -- the ILO study said the labour force in the year 2020 will be an estimated 10 to 22% smaller than it would have been if there had been no HIV/AIDS -- or about 11.5 million fewer. The percentage declines by country were: Botswana (21), Kenya (15), Malawi (13), Mozambique (19), Namibia (22), South Africa (17), Uganda (12) and Zimbabwe (21).

In the case of countries with HIV prevalence rates below 10% of the adult population -- Cameroon, Côte d'Ivoire, Ethiopia, Haiti, Nigeria, Thailand and the United Republic of Tanzania -- the labour force is expected to be between 3 and 9% smaller (except in Thailand, where the difference is just over 1%) than it would have been without HIV/AIDS, or a total of about 12.5 million fewer persons. Percentage declines by country were: Cameroon (4); Ethiopia (5), Haiti (4), Côte d'Ivoire (7), Nigeria (3), Tanzania (8), and Thailand (1).

The report also says HIV/AIDS will have a significant impact on the composition and quality of the labour force in those countries in terms of age, skills and experience, while creating more child labour and unravelling hard fought gains in the advancement of women.

"Age and sex distribution of the labour force will change, due to the rising number of widows and orphans seeking a livelihood and the large proportion of people with AIDS in the age group 20-49 years, resulting in early entry of children into the active labour force, the early withdrawal of people with AIDS and the retention of older persons in the labour force due to economic need," the report said.

The report notes that the labour force projections provide some indication of the lowering of the average age of the labour force due to the impact of HIV/AIDS. Even assuming the same labour force participation rates, the median age of the labour force in high prevalence countries would be reduced by as much as two years by the year 2020, implying an increasing proportion of younger age groups in the labour force, as well as a reduction in the quality of the labour force in terms of education, training and experience.

Impact on employers

The report said AIDS-related illnesses and deaths of workers affect employers by increasing costs and reducing revenues. The impact of HIV/AIDS will require more spending by employers for health care, burial, training and recruitment of replacement employees. In addition, the epidemic is expected to lead to a reduction in revenues due to absenteeism caused by illness or attendance at funerals, as well as time spent caring for persons with HIV/AIDS or training of people to replace those who have become sick or who have died.

"In view of these factors, some companies have already begun to hire or train two or three employees for the same position, if it is feared that employees in key positions may be lost due to AIDS," the report says. "Employees can also be replaced by importing labour from neighbouring countries, at the risk of creating a bigger immigrant sub-population, which is often more vulnerable to HIV infection."

The ILO response

"As we enter the new millennium, there is admittedly belated, yet growing understanding that HIV/AIDS is very much a problem for the world of work," the report said. "The numbers of workers living with HIV/AIDS have, or will, depending on the country, become a major cause for concern for all employers, in enterprises and organizations of all sizes."

The report outlines a series of measures that can be taken by its tripartite social partners to increase their efforts against the further spread of HIV/AIDS in the world of work, including increasing awareness and advocacy for preventing the spread of HIV and providing protection and support for those living with HIV/AIDS; development of preventive and protection programmes for workers and employers; gathering and analysis of additional data on HIV/AIDS; and the development of new legislation and policy for HIV/AIDS.

The ILO said it would collaborate closely with UNAIDS and its co-sponsors in prevention and support activities, but could bring its special status as a tripartite organization involving workers' and employers' organizations as well as governments to the campaign against AIDS.


HIV/AIDS: A threat to decent work, productivity and development
Document for discussion at the Special High-Level Meeting on HIV/AIDS and the World of Work, International Labour Conference, 8 June 2000, Geneva, 2000, ISBN 92-2-112167-4. The report and other information are available on the new ILO website on AIDS:

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This article was provided by UNAIDS. Visit UNAIDS' website to find out more about their activities, publications and services.
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