HIV/Aids impacts the bottom line
The high prevalence of HIV/Aids in the workforce has a significant impact on the already high cost of employing people in South Africa.
The prevalence of workers infected with HIV/Aids continues to be one of the biggest challenges facing local industries as the effects eat into the bottom line – particularly of companies with large unskilled workforces.
It is as much an economic threat as it is a health and social problem and, if not managed effectively and timeously, the consequences can bring an economy to its knees.
In South Africa the mining, metals processing, agribusiness and transport sectors are most affected by the pandemic, with more than 23% of employees infected with HIV/Aids. Labour and capital-intensive industries, as well as those with high labour mobility, are most vulnerable. Prevalence rates are higher among skilled and unskilled workers than among supervisors and managers.
According to the South African Business Coalition on HIV and Aids (Sabcoha), business is playing an increasingly important role in the fight against HIV/Aids.
While many would argue that business has a moral responsibility to help tackle the crisis, there is also the matter of the bottom line.
As many as 10-40% of the South African workforce is likely to be infected with HIV. But the impact and potential impact of HIV/Aids varies greatly from one company to the next, depending on the industry and the nature of the work force.
Research shows that if companies invest in prevention and treatment programmes, the savings outweigh the costs. Providing care and treatment for HIV-positive employees can reduce the financial burden of HIV/Aids by as much as 40%, Sabcoha says.
Many companies in the sectors most affected have become proactive in tackling the problem. As a result they have become world leaders in their response to HIV/Aids in the workplace.
“Some of the most comprehensive and successful HIV workplace programmes are being developed by the private sector,” says Sabcoha chief executive Brad Mears. “These can be used as a blueprint by countries that have yet to feel the impact of the disease.”
SAB, Anglo American and Volkswagen are among those companies that have developed world-class programmes now being used elsewhere.
According to Dawie Roodt, chief economist of the Efficient Group, the financial burden of HIV/Aids on the South African economy can be very heavy.
“The fact that it is an unpredictable factor and employers are not allowed to require of employees to disclose their HIV status makes it virtually impossible to plan and budget for the expense,” he says.
“It already is very expensive to employ people, and not only as a result of minimum-wage legislation. We also have very strict labour laws and it is not easy to get rid of non-performing and unproductive employees. Our laws for safety in the workplace are also very advanced and although this is good, it is also very expensive.”
Roodt says having employees infected with HIV/Aids further adds to the cost of employment.
“It affects productivity and, in accordance with labour legislation, a staff member with HIV/Aids who gets sick must be granted sick leave. While the employer remains responsible for the salary of the absent employee, often a replacement has to be appointed, too. The replacement worker also needs to be trained and usually takes a while to become productive.
“Because it is mostly skilled and unskilled workers that are affected, training is not as costly as in the case of an engineer, for example. But it still has an influence on the bottom line,” he says.
Small companies are particularly hard hit by these additional financial burdens, because they cannot afford to pay the extra salaries and other costs related to an employee infected with HIV. This can also have an impact on the capacity of small businesses to create jobs.
Roodt says he does not think that workplace programmes on HIV/Aids are that expensive or difficult to do, because there are a lot of resources and material available that employers can use. “I also think that government has done a lot in this regard and should be commended for its efforts,” he says.
KNOW THE FACTS
• No employee, or applicant for employment, may be required by their employer to undergo an HIV test. HIV-testing by or on behalf of an employer may only take place where the Labour Court has declared such testing to be justifiable in accordance with Section 7(2) of the Employment Equity Act.
• All persons with HIV/Aids have a right to privacy, including privacy concerning their HIV/Aids status. There is no legal obligation on employees to disclose their HIV status to their employer or to other employees.
• An employer cannot demand to know if the cause of an illness is HIV infection.
• A doctor or healthcare worker who tells an employer about an employee’s HIV status without consent is acting against the law. This is breaking the employee’s right to confidentiality.
• An employee with HIV/Aids may not be dismissed because he or she is HIV-positive or has Aids. (Section 187(1)(f) of the Labour Relations Act, No. 66 of 1995). However, where there are valid reasons related to their ability to continue working and fair procedures have been followed, their services may be terminated in accordance with Section 188(1)(a)(i).
• An employer is obliged to provide, as far as is reasonably practicable, a safe workplace. (Section 8(1) of the Occupational Health and Safety Act, No. 85 of 1993). This may include ensuring that the risk of occupational exposure to HIV is minimised.
• An employee who is infected with HIV as a result of an occupational exposure to infected blood or bodily fluids, may apply for benefits. (Section 22(1) of the Compensation for Occupational Injuries and Diseases Act, No. 130 of 1993).
• In accordance with the Basic Conditions of Employment Act, all employees must receive certain basic standards of employment, including a minimum number of days sick leave.
• A registered medical aid scheme may not unfairly discriminate directly or indirectly against its members on the basis of their “state of health”. (Section 24(2)(e) of the Medical Schemes Act, No 131 of 1998).
WHAT IS HIV?
HIV stands for: Human Immunodeficiency Virus
HIV is a virus. Viruses such as HIV cannot grow or reproduce on their own, they need to infect the cells of a living organism in order to replicate (make new copies of themselves). The human immune system usually finds and kills viruses fairly quickly, but HIV attacks the immune system itself – the very thing that would normally get rid of a virus.
With around 2,6 million people becoming infected with HIV in 2009, there are now an estimated 33,3 million people around the world who are living with HIV – including millions who have developed Aids.
WHAT IS AIDS?
Aids stands for Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome
Aids is a medical condition. A person is diagnosed with Aids when his immune system is too weak to fight off infections.
Since Aids was first identified in the early 1980s, an unprecedented number of people have been affected by the global Aids epidemic.
What is the connection between HIV and Aids?
HIV causes Aids by damaging the immune-system cells until the immune system can no longer fight off other infections that it would usually be able to prevent.
It takes around ten years on average for someone with HIV to develop Aids. However, this average is based on the person with HIV having a reasonable diet. Someone who is malnourished may well progress from HIV to Aids more rapidly.