Union increases action for HIV-positive seafarers

The International Transport Workers' Federation (ITF), along with its largest affiliate, the Associated Marine Officers and Seamen’s Union of the Philippines (AMOSUP), has stepped up its programme to improve employment opportunities for HIV-positive seafarers.

The pair has teamed up to establish a self-help networking group with the aim of helping HIV-positive seafarers fight against employment discrimination.

The move is an indication of AMOSUP’s continued focus on health and welfare of seafarers, with the union operating four seafarers' hospitals in the Philippines.

The idea behind the group — which has been named Positibong Marino Philippines — is to protect the rights of HIV-positive seafarers and promote equal-opportunity employment for them in the shipping industry.

AMOSUP claims most maritime employers are not prepared to employ HIV-positive seafarers based simply on their health status.

Jebsen Gamido, who is himself HIV positive, is to head the network and says he knows firsthand the problems many seafarers are going through.

“I have faced so many challenges to getting employment onboard [a] ship," he said. "That’s why I am committed to build this network of HIV-positive seafarers in the Philippines to provide mental and legal support to all HIV-positive seafarers, irrespective of their nationality.

"We will challenge the stigma and discrimination around HIV/Aids and fight for our rights, especially in the Philippines, where employment discrimination based on HIV status is prohibited by law."

Some progress had been made before with employers in terms of widening employment opportunities.

Last year, local Philippines manning agent Magsaysay Maritime Corp took a lead by agreeing to take part in a programme to promote awareness and boost job opportunities for HIV-positive seafarers. But there have not been many followers since.

However, there are still worrying signs of widespread ignorance among seafarers over the HIV virus, despite a long-running health campaign to raise awareness by the ITF. That lack of understanding is leading to workplace discrimination, the ITF believes.

The ITF has taken a proactive stance through its HIV/Aids education work programme, claiming that transport workers are at a higher risk of infection than workers in other industries.

However, an ITF survey of 615 officers and ratings from 38 ITF-affiliated unions last year revealed that many seafarers have misconceptions over the transmission of the disease.

More than 40% of respondents to the ITF survey said they believed the HIV virus could be spread by food and drink.

The ITF said there were “information gaps” and “myths and misconceptions” about the virus among seafarers. The result of this is many seafarers feel uncomfortable about working with HIV-positive colleagues.

“It [the survey] also showed high levels of anxiety about working with HIV-positive workmates, an attitude the ITF is committed to eliminating by ensuring that seafarers have correct information about HIV risk,” the ITF said in conclusion to its report.