HIV from a union perspective

I want to thank the opportunity given to me, to speak on behalf of labour movement about HIV. HIV is a serious threat to workers, in particular in Sub-Saharan Africa.

In my country, South Africa, there is currently a debate about the number of deaths that have increased drastically in the last 15 years.
On 22 April 2009, our country had elections where President Zuma was elected as a President.

He in turn appointed a new minister of health, Aaron Motsoaledi. Minister Motsoaledi attended the Central Executive Committee of our federation, COSATU, as from 23 to 25 November 2009.

The presentation that he made convinced all leaders that for the sake of our economy, the trade union leadership must lead from the front.

I am proud that I know my HIV status, but I am not proud that the majority of 236000 Numsa members do not know their status. My colleague, Comrade Sipho is one of the few and I congratulate him for the wise decision he took to know his HIV status.

I must also thank Sipho’s employer, Atlas Copco, for providing a conducive environment for Sipho to take the decision that he took.

In South Africa, we come from a sad history where the senior leadership did not move fast enough to provide a “conducive environment” for the population to move beyond the issue of stigma and to provide hope after the knowledge of the status.

Instead the senior leadership started questioning whether a virus can cause a syndrome and that spelt thousands of preventable deaths.

The hope I am talking about here, is the hope that says the person will have access to treatment after knowing the status. The person will receive the necessary support from people around him or her.

As I speak here, our President Jacob Zuma and his Deputy President Kgalema Monthlante are in a public function where organisations that usually criticise governments approach to the fight against HIV are united together with the new administration against HIV.

The most senior leadership of government will encourage all South Africans to know their status. Minister of Health announced that he will encourage senior leadership to take public HIV tests.

I wish they do because this will send a very strong message to all South Africans about the importance of knowing one’s HIV status.

This leads me to talk about our role as trade union leaders. I think it is our responsibility to ensure that in our tenure as leaders of this union, we make it a point that more and more metalworkers know their status. We must do this with knowledge that our people will get assistance from government and company’s whey they work.

We want to thank the donors to the SWHAP programme and plead with them to increase the resources to the programme because it is a very important programme for the African continent.

As we launch a new chapter in the fight against HIV, we know that governments alone will have challenges. The first major challenge will be the role played by monopolistic pharmaceutical sector in our society.

Minister of Economic Development, Cde Ebrahim Patel has already said that if government were to provide necessary drugs to infected South Africans, a better pricing model of the drugs must be found and more generic drugs must be produced for the population.

This is where we expect business to play an important role in convincing their counterparts in the pharmaceutical sector that it must not be about their greediness, but about the greediness of all capitalists.

The more drugs given to workers, the more capitalists make profits! Is that not so?

Another challenge for our continent is the issue of skills, if we fail to prolong the lives of the current skilled workforce we must as well forget about all the grand plans about becoming serious player in the global socio-economic landscape.

I have said enough about the issues surrounding people that are already affected. Let me now turn into the more sustainable campaign that must take place.

As leaders, government, business and labour, we must work tirelessly to prevent new infections from happening. All companies must adopt the ILO code of good practice on HIV/AIDS. HIV must be a problem for all social partners in the employment situation.

I think the trade union leadership can play a leading role in calling for a change in behaviour of members. In our continent there are challenges of broken families because of migration system of labour.

The tradition allows people to have multiple wives. There are high levels of unemployment and poverty etc.

As trade union leaders we must fight against patriarchy, we must defeat the demon of men who do not give women a chance to make a choice of using protection even in marriage, we must defeat the demon of men who believe that sleeping with young women can cure HIV, we must defeat a demon that says that currently HIV can be cured.

These are just few of many peculiar challenges that we must collectively deal with as social partners to ensure sustainability for the African continent.

We do not underestimate the challenges we face, but we strongly believe that working together we can do more.

In conclusion, once again I wish to convey our sincere appreciation to the donors of this programme. I want to assure them that it much appreciated and an increase in contributions to the programme will enhance the effectiveness and efficiency of the project for sustainability and profitability of Swedish investments in our continent.

The relationship between Sweden and South Africa is historical, we fought against the evil monster of apartheid together and I am confident we can translate the same vigour we used against the evil system to fight the HIV pandemic.

I thank you.

Cedric Gina
Numsa President
01 December 2009 in Stockholm.


Numsa Speeches