Natal has prompted the Southern African Clothing and Textile Workers’ Union (Sactwu) to provide antiretroviral treatment for its HIV-positive members.

It is the first factory-based antiretroviral programme in the clothing industry and is part of the union’s industry programme to address the HIV/Aids problem.

The programme, which has R300 million in funding, is a partnership with the Hoskens Consolidated Investments Foundation and is the first of its kind run by any trade union.

The foundation said the programme represented a long-term commitment, although it did not see itself competing with the government in antiretroviral provision.

The programme was launched yesterday at Zenzeleni Clothing, a factory in Gale Street, Durban, started by the union 20 years ago to provide work for retrenched workers.

Sactwu Deputy General Secretary Andre Kriel said HIV/Aids posed a big problem in the clothing and textile industry Although the antiretroviral rollout was just a pilot programme, he hoped that other companies and unions would follow suit.

“We as a union wanted to focus on what we could do to protect our workers, and we have taken a bold step which no other union has ever done before.

“The rollout in the province is too slow and employers have an obligation to assist their workers, and that has not happened until now. Why can’t other factories and employers do this for their employees?”

Sactwu has already trained more than 4000 shop stewards in basic HIV/Aids awareness and counselling skills and has started a homebased care programme. In addition, 6000 union members have been tested for HIV through its voluntary counselling and testing programme.

“We are training our people to look after workers who are ill and unable to look after themselves. We will provide pills for any worker that is HIV-positive and needs treatment,” said Kriel.

“Unless companies respond to the HIV challenge, our capacity to build a world-class industry will be seriously weakened and the quality of life for workers will deteriorate.”

Factory manager Lenny Naidoo said he had seen the devastating effect the disease had had on his employees. He said the company had lost 13 employees to HIV/Aids in the past two to three years.

“We definitely needed to come up with an initiative that would include antiretroviral rollout because I have seen first-hand the devastating effects of this disease,” he said.

“The stigma attached to the disease will eradicate slowly, and with ongoing sessions more people will come forward.”

Source: The Mercury – Xoliswa Zulu