De Beers, mineworkers union agree on joint HIV/AIDS policy

De Beers and the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) have agreed on an HIV/AIDS Workplace Policy. The two parties stated their agreement at a recent signing ceremony in Johannesburg, South Africa.

The policy, according to a statement from De Beers, addresses the important principles of non-discrimination of HIV infected and affected employees, education and training programs, prevention strategies such as voluntary counseling and testing, and a holistic wellness approach, which now includes the provision of anti-retroviral treatment, particularly to those employees and partners for whom it has until now been inaccessible, and where this can be done in a responsible and sustainable manner. The program is slated to begin July 1, and run for two years as a trail.

“This policy truly represents a unified response from business and labor to the threat posed by HIV/AIDS to our business, to our employees, their families and the communities in which we operate,” Nicky Oppenheimer, chairman of De Beers, said. “It is only by mobilizing and combining the efforts of all stakeholders that we can reduce the impact of the HIV/AIDS pandemic. It also demonstrates our commitment to the Mining Summit Declaration of Intent on HIV/AIDS which calls for partnerships such as this.”

Archie Palane, deputy secretary general of the National Union of Mineworkers, added: “Fortunately, the agreement comes at a time when those who have lost hope need leadership. However, we hope that we are not signing the agreement to fill the filing cabinets or to make history. The major test will be in the implementation. We truly hope that those in need will reciprocate by utilizing the opportunity geared towards extending their working lives in an endeavor to alleviate poverty.”

De Beers announced last August that it would provide and subsidize anti-retroviral medication as part of a comprehensive treatment program for employees and a spouse or life partner. The company, after talks with the Union and in an effort to provide interventions, will now, according to the revised joint policy, provide treatment free of charge to both employees and spouses or life partners.

The original intention of the policy was to provide access to anti-retroviral treatment from January 1 this past year, but the joint project team was confronted with a number of unexpected challenges, due mainly to the nature of the proposed treatment program. De Beers said it was trying to provide treatment, care, and support to employees as well as life partners through a network of accredited medical practitioners in addition to medical facilities available on mine. Because of this wide network of participating doctors, the company is also able to continue treatment for those who are registered on the program but who leave employment due to retirement, retrenchment, or ill-health retirement.

One of the challenges still to be resolved is that the provision of anti-retroviral treatment to employees and life-partners outside of company medical facilities is subject to fringe benefit tax, De Beers said in its statement. This would render the treatment unaffordable for many of its intended beneficiaries. In order to avoid any further delays, De Beers has in the interim agreed to shoulder the burden of the tax for employees and partners participating in the program but intends to make representation to the Department of Finance in due course.