Union hails car companies‘ HIV/Aids programmes

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By Nwabisa Nofemele, The Herald Online, 23 Oct 2006

AUTOMOTIVE giants in the Eastern Cape have a received a thumbs-up from the National Union of Metalworkers of SA for their effective HIV/Aids wellness programmes.

However, at a strategy workshop hosted by the SA Business Coalition against HIV/Aids, most businesses conceded that there were companies which did not implement HIV/Aids wellness programmes because they did not understand the long-term negative impact of ignoring the disease.

The workshop in Port Elizabeth gave companies in the province the opportunity to exchange ideas on how to improve their health and wellness programmes.

Daimler Chrysler SA corporate health services manager Dr Clifford Panter said more than 96% of DCSA employees had had at least one HIV test in the last five years.

Altogether, 9,6% of tested employees are living with the virus. The company spends R2-million a year on HIV/Aids awareness programmes and about R9-million on health care, including antiretrovirals, for employees and former workers.

“Retrenched employees are entitled to stay on the HIV/Aids treatment programme” Panter said. The company also had a policy to prevent new infections by offering information and training sessions and communication activities.

According to General Motors SA benefits co-ordinator Charlaine Wilson, all employees have been put through a one-day HIV/Aids awareness training programme and about 40 employees have been trained as peer educators to inform other employees and the communities they live in.

About 68% of employees have been tested and 5,7% of them live with HIV.

Wilson said the company hosted regular talks and presentations for both its employees and management.

“An example of this is a presentation by well-known Judge Edwin Cameron and satirist Pieter Dirk Uys earlier this year.”

The company has also set up a wellness forum, which includes unions. It is responsible for awareness and support programmes directed not only at employees but also at communities.

Wilson said the company spent about R1-million a year on HIV programmes.

VWSA corporate health services manager Dr Alex Govender said the company had in-house counsellors who were all nurses and social workers. They provided pre-test and post-test counselling.

Continental Tyres product marketing coordinator Rene Olivier said infected employees and their dependants were provided with immune boosters and ARVs. The did not know how many employees were living with the disease.

Numsa regional secretary Irwin Jim said: “We know of certain workers who were already terminally ill, But as a result of these programmes by the companies, some of those workers are back at work.”

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