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Swiss firms fail to take up HIV challenge

The Swiss Aids Federation wants to help HIV-positive jobseekers Keystone

Continuing discrimination in the workplace has forced the Swiss Aids Federation to set up an online job exchange for people who are HIV-positive.

This content was published on August 29, 2003 - 17:14

The size of the struggle ahead is clear: of the 700 firms asked to participate in the scheme, less than 30 have said yes.

The idea behind www.workpositive.ch <http://www.workpositive.ch> is so that people can see which firms support the employment of HIV sufferers, while those looking for jobs can advertise their skills.

“We want to make sure that people who are HIV-positive and are engaged in a job can remain in that job, and we want to make sure that employers know what they can contribute,” Ruth Rutman, director of the Swiss Aids Federation, told swissinfo.

More than 20,000 people are living with HIV in Switzerland. In 2002, 792 new cases of HIV were recorded

Some 70 per cent of people who are HIV positive either have a job or are looking for a job.

The federation wrote to more than 700 firms deemed as being socially aware. Many are members of the Swiss-American Chamber of Commerce, and 40 are from the Global Business Coalition on HIV/AIDS.

Negative response

Of the 700 companies contacted, only 90 have replied and more than 60 of these were negative, said Rutman.

Twelve firms have offered financial support, another 12 are supporting the idea and four are still considering the proposal.

“We are not disappointed and we do not blame these firms,” said Rutman. “It shows us that we really are at the beginning of this process. It is up to us now to present information, to contact these organisations and make sure that they know.”

“In most cases it is not malice. It is just that they do not have the facts available, and this is one of the first tasks that we have to do. We have to present the facts and make sure that employers know the facts.”

The Global Business Coalition on HIV/AIDS (GBC) is an alliance of international businesses dedicated to combating the Aids epidemic

Its mission is to increase significantly the number of companies committed to tackling Aids, and to making business a valued partner in global efforts against the epidemic.

Swiss subsidiaries

The Swiss Aids Federation approached 40 Swiss subsidiaries of companies which are GBC members.

Of the 40 firms contacted, only two have agreed to contribute.

Rutman said the Swiss branches probably didn’t know that their parent companies had signed up to the initiative.

“We are going to contact the headquarters of the Global Business Coalition and we are going to inform them,” she said.

“It shows us the reality. Our topic is not the most important topic for those firms and it’s up to us to make sure that our topic goes a bit more to the top of their agenda.”

The handful of firms or organisations which have already committed themselves to the project include Swiss retail giant, Coop, and Holcim, the world’s second-largest cement producer.

Widespread discrimination

Kurt Pärli, a lecturer at the University of Applied Science in Solothurn, recently conducted a survey of 800 people living with HIV/Aids. He says his findings reveal widespread discrimination in the workplace.

“People are losing their jobs just because they are HIV-positive, or they are not being taken on, or they remain unemployed longer,” he told swissinfo.

“These are people who are absolutely capable of working are being excluded because of continuing discrimination.”

“With new medications, the situation has definitely improved within the last few years,” added Caroline Suter of the Swiss Aids Federation.

“Now people are able to work full-time, but because of discrimination, they are often not able to get a new job or to remain in the job they have.”

The Swiss Aids Federation is distributing a brochure to all firms in Switzerland, offering medical, legal and practical information on how to deal with a situation where someone comes and says they are HIV-positive.

swissinfo, Vincent Landon

In brief

The Swiss Aids Federation (SAF) has set up an online job exchange for HIV-positive jobseekers.

SAF asked 700 socially aware companies if they would be willing to respond - only 90 replied.

Of the 90 responses, only 24 replied in the affirmative.

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