As indicated in the previous chapter, the findings of my investigation into the evolution of AIDS related workplace policies within the Liquor, Hospitality and Miscellaneous Workers' Union will be presented chronologically, commencing with the year 1981. For each year, the first item listed - printed in bold, italic print - is taken from the Australian National Council on AIDS publication, HIV/AIDS Anti-Discrimination Campaign - Key Messages, released by the AIDS Council of New South Wales in January 1993.
It should be noted that when reviewing the documentation of a particular union, trends may emerge either as a result of the activities of the trade union movement in general or as a result of the initiatives of a particular union (such as the LHMU). My investigation will attempt to deal with both perspectives.
5.2 A CHRONOLOGY OF POLICY EVOLUTION
One of the earliest documents on AIDS to be found was in an Occupational Health and Safety: AIDS file. Unfortunately its origins are not clear. An Australian organisation, identified only as CDI (? the Commonwealth Department of Information) produced the document, which appears to be part of an ongoing series of reports. Titled Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS): Precautions for Clinical and Laboratory Staffs (Based on MMWR (1982) 31: 507 and 577), this document appears to be most comprehensive in its advice on precautions to be taken when dealing with people with AIDS especially in view of the fact that AIDS was in its early stages as a "Western" epidemic. There is no record in the Union files as to the document's dates of receipt and filing let alone any information about whether or not it was disseminated to those workers involved in dealing with AIDS.
Given that, in 1982, there was not yet any general perception of a need for such information to be made widely available - in fact, Australia was hardly aware that such a disease existed - I found it somewhat surprising to find such detailed information on file as early as 1982.
In 1983, the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) produced a document titled Discrimination 1983 Decision. Although the document discusses discrimination on the basis of race, colour, sex, marital status, sexual orientation, age, religion, political opinion, physical appearance, physical or mental impairment, criminal record, national extraction or social origin, no mention is made about discrimination in relation to AIDS. However, this document can be seen as something of a landmark in that it represents a clear commitment of the union movement to equality of opportunity in the workplace. The same document also identifies the need for effective national anti discrimination legislation and machinery which recognises the right to equal opportunity and freedom from discrimination and promotes community understanding of this right.
Also on file was another document relating to the issue of discrimination, A Summary of Relevant ACTU Policy. This document included reference to the following:Discrimination Policy (1983 Congress);
The LHMU, previously the Federated Miscellaneous Workers' Union (FMWU), also filed a document entitled A Survey of Sexually Transmitted Diseases in Australia, authored by Bradford and Philpot in 1983. Although AIDS was not mentioned in this document, it would seem that, by filing the document, Union officials were becoming aware of the emerging AIDS epidemic and were prepared to acquire information for use within the Union.
One of the undated documents found in the Union's Occupational Health and Safety files dealing specifically with AIDS is a leaflet which carries the title AIDS Trying to Reduce the Risk. The reason for dating this item as 1984 is that it contains a list of groups able to assist people in overcoming "AIDS anxiety". The New South Wales group listed is the AIDS Action Committee, a group formed in 1983 in response to the Australian Red Cross's action in banning gays from donating blood (Timewell et al., 1992). Other State groups listed were formed in the following year; so it would seem that this is one of the earliest AIDS related pamphlets to be produced in Australia.
In 1984 the NSW Department of Health issued an information leaflet, AIDS - Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome. The editor of the leaflet provided a questionnaire for people to respond with suggestions about how the publication might be improved. Considering how early this was in the epidemic in Australia, it would seem that this was a very forward thinking approach to obtaining greater community involvement.
Other AIDS related leaflets - undated - found on file were:AIDS - Information for Healthcare Personnel, produced for the AIDS Advisory Committee by the Educational Resource Centre, Royal Children's Hospital, Melbourne, and the Health Commission of Victoria and funded by the Commonwealth Department of Health;
How this leaflet was distributed and what feedback there may have been is not recorded.
Other, rather more substantial documents on file for the year 1984 are:Facts about: AIDS Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, compiled by the AIDS Task Force in December 1984 and produced for the AIDS Task Force and AIDS Advisory Committee, two groups set up by the Commonwealth Government to monitor the spread of AIDS in the community and to make recommendations to the Government.
It would appear that the FMWU was represented on the AIDS Task Force, and 1984 Bulletins appear in the Union's Occupational Health and Safety [AIDS] file. These Bulletins contain information on various aspects of blood transfusions and organ and tissue transplantation.STD Clinics - Places, Names, Addresses and Telephone Numbers (October 1984). This document provides the above information not only for all Australian states and territories, but also for New Zealand, Papua New Guinea and Fiji.
Two further undated documents appear on file. By analysing the information in each of these documents, it would appear that the date closest to their issue would be 1984, so they are included in this section. They are: (1) a summary of sections of the Anti-Discrimination Act relevant to discrimination relating to AIDS and AIDS related conditions, prepared by the New South Wales Anti-Discrimination Board, and; (2) AIDS Information, a document containing information about contact groups, pamphlets and other relevant reading material. Included in this document is an extract from a book or article, AIDS in Australia, by Drs Alister Brass and Julian Gold.
Several journal articles on AIDS, although written in 1984, did not appear on file until 1985. Consequently, these will be considered in relation to that year.
Australia becomes the first country in the world to secure its blood supply from HIV infection with testing of all donations.
The first National Conference on AIDS is held as community concern continues to grow about the potential impact of the virus. 49 cases are reported in Australia.
On 31 January 1985, the General Secretary of the FMWU sent a letter to Branch Secretaries, enclosing a copy of correspondence received from the ACTU concerning the operation of the National Advisory Committee on AIDS (NACAIDS). In his letter he drew the attention of all Branch Secretaries to the Committee's decision, as reported by the ACTU's nominee (Ms C. Healy), to produce a number of publications related to aspects of the AIDS problem. He also advised them that Ms Healy had requested that the ACTU brief her on specific concerns about AIDS so as to ensure that she is in a position to raise these matters within the context of the National Advisory Committee. The General Secretary concluded by requesting Branch Secretaries to consider the enclosed documentation and inform the Federal Office of any specific concerns which they may be desirous of being conveyed to the ACTU. The documents enclosed with the letter were: ACTU Circular No.16/1985 (dated 21 January 1985) re AIDS which advised that the National Advisory Committee on AIDS, having considered needs, had established certain priority tasks which Affiliates and ACTU State Branches were requested to urgently implement;
A letter from the ACTU nominee on the NACAIDS Committee (dated 14 January 1985) enclosing her report on the activities of NACAIDS; and Facts about AIDS, a document prepared in December 1984 by the AIDS Task Force.
The State Secretary of the Victoria Branch of the FMWU responded to this letter on 8 February 1985, attaching some notes on AIDS prepared by a Branch Organiser. These notes detailed specific "at risk" groups amongst their membership, and including within Union ranks those considered as social groups at risk. Also included were suggestions on the kinds of "hygienic precautions" which could be taken by certain workers.
The Victorian State Branch Secretary followed up with a further letter written on 11 February 1985, in which he advised the General Secretary that ... our members employed by TNT Group 4 and Tullamarine Airport, who are required to search the bags of passengers, have expressed con- cern that they may be exposed to Aids (sic). They have pointed out that, in some instances, the bags which they searched have contained damp cloth with blood stains.
At a meeting of members employed by TNT Group 4 held recently, it was decided to ask the Company to provide members who wished to wear them with disposable gloves when they are carrying out bag searches.
It seems that our Organisation may have to give consideration to producing some material to alert members in certain occupations of the risk of acquiring Aids (sic) through the work they perform.
A note written at the end of this letter and initialled by the General Secretary, reads, "1985 Federal Council resolved no need to do anything."
Documents on file for the year 1985 show a massive increase, in what appears as an increase proportionate to the increased number of people being diagnosed in Australia with AIDS.
In February 1985, the ACTU VTHC Occupational Health and Safety Unit produced, in issue number 44, a complete chapter - Chapter 6 - on AIDS. This Chapter begins as follows:
Union response to AIDS has reflected the confusing and frightening nature of occupational exposure to infectious diseases. The Plumbers & Gasfitters Employees' Union of Australia response stands out as an excellent example of a responsible, well informed Union approach. Reproduced below is the text of a leaflet put out by this Union.
The text will not be reproduced here, but the document mentioned appeared as a leaflet in another file and will be referred to in greater detail later.
The mere existence of such a leaflet from a union as early as February 1985 would seem to indicate that certain sections of the union movement at least, had understood the implications of AIDS as an occupational health and safety issue, and were prepared to take steps to educate their members accordingly.
A leaflet from the Australian Trade Union Training Authority (TUTA) about a two-day seminar, AIDS A Union Issue, to be held on 20 21 March 1985 and date-stamped 1 March 1985 provides the first evidence of the advent of formal educational programs for trade unionists. There does not seem to be any indication on file as to whether any delegates from the FMWU were present, but the fact that the leaflet appears on file indicates that the Union was aware of the seminar and may well have sent delegates. A document filed close by provides some evidence in support of this possibility; an extract from Brass and Gold's book AIDS in Australia (referred to earlier) contains the information "Authorised copy made by TUTA, 18 March 1985".
Also on file is a leaflet from the Ambulance Section, FMWU [Queensland Branch] (dated 27 February 1985 and filed on 4 March 1985) entitled Ambulance News. This document is headed "Infectious Cases", and informs readers of two reports of possible AIDS cases being treated and transported by ambulance officers. The basic hygiene precautions which should be taken in such circumstances are discussed and the urgent need for hospitals to be made aware of their duty to notify ambulance authorities when an infectious case has been transported by ambulance is stressed. At the end of the document is a copy of an item from AIDS Task Force Bulletin No 1/85 (Health Workers with Antibodies to the Aids (sic) Related Virus) which discussed the employment-related implications for people who have the virus.
One of the most important AIDS related events which took place in 1985 as a direct result of the action of the FMWU occurred in the Northern Territory at a Prison Officers' Tribunal. On 18 July 1985, the Federated Miscellaneous Workers' Union of Australia filed an application with the Secretary of the Tribunal concerning an AIDS allowance. The actual proceedings, however, did not take place until 4 June 1986, almost a year after the initial application was submitted. This action will therefore be referred to again in the 1986 section of this chapter.
On 19 September 1985, an official from one of the branches of the FMWU sent copies of the following AIDS related articles to all branches of the Union. Some of these articles were dated 1984, others were dated 1985:AIDS - What do we know so far? (from Modern Medicine of Australia/June 1984)
Two further items appeared in the same file, Occupational Health and Safety [AIDS] dated 1985: (1) AIDS and Discrimination - A Submission of the NSW Anti-Discrimination Board to the National Advisory Committee on AIDS (undated, although the information presented goes up to November 1984), and (2) An information release, advising that the NSW Nurses' Association had endorsed a number of policy positions in relation to such AIDS related issues as advised precautions for those providing care to AIDS patients, opposition to the establishment of a National HIV/AIDS Register, and proposals for the education of health workers. The document, dated March 1985, was signed by Bronwyn Ridgway, General Secretary of the NSWNA.
Earlier in this section I mentioned that an information leaflet had been produced for use by plumbers and gasfitters. This document was found in the Occupational Health and Safety [AIDS] file and indicates that its content was based on the latest available information as at December 1984. The leaflet was produced by the Plumbers and Gasfitters Employees' Union of Australia, and, as such, may be one of the Union's earliest policy development documents. Reading the document in 1995, with a decade of hindsight, is an interesting experience especially when one notes some of the statements made at that time. However, regardless of any such shortcomings, the document must be seen as a worthy attempt to dispel some of the myths and fears which were current at the time.
On 19 December 1985, the Office of the Commonwealth Public Service Board issued a document, which, on examination appears to have been a forerunner to an actual policy statement. The document, which was sent to all Departments, Statutory Authorities and Staff Organisations, was entitled Guidelines on the Management of Occurrences of AIDS in the Australian Public Service Workplace. Within the LHMU's filing system, it was placed in an Occupational Health and Safety file under the sub-heading, "Other Unions' or Organisations' Policies". A short document, being only three pages long, the Guidelines were accompanied by attachments detailing where further information could be obtained.
On the same file was a document produced by the Printing and Kindred Industries Union (PKIU) under the title, An Occupational Health and Safety Agreement - 1985 Policy. This Agreement does not make any specific mention of AIDS; rather it covers general aspects of health and safety. As such, it can probably be best described as a useful set of workplace policy guidelines.
Three further documents, located on another Occupational Health and Safety [AIDS] file are reports from the 1985 AIDS Task Force. Each document deals with a set of specific issues such as:Health workers with antibodies to the AIDS related virus.
Obviously, the list is very comprehensive covering a wide range of issues, and thus provides a useful information base for Union officials.
The question which comes to mind at this stage is, "How much of this information was being received and understood by the workers belonging to the Union?" At this stage, there are no clear answers; perhaps these will emerge as my examination of the Union's documents, especially its journals, progresses.
One of the earliest items on AIDS which I was able to find in my search of FMWU journals from 1983 onwards was an article which appeared in the FMWU journal, Federation News, 12 (4) in December 1985. In the section provided for news from each of the State and Territory Branches I found a paragraph headed, "Queensland hospitals unite on health". This paragraph, which discusses the formation of health and safety committees to establish occupational health and safety agreements with hospitals boards, appears to contain one of the first references in Federation News to AIDS in the workplace when it makes mention of the increased risk of infection encountered by dental staff when dealing with Hepatitis B and AIDS patients during the course of their normal employment.
Yet another undated article, apparently from a journal, Enrolled Nurse, which appears to have been produced in Western Australia, is titled, "AIDS: Are nurses in danger?" was located in an Occupational Health and Safety [AIDS] file for press clippings. I have dated this article as 1985 because the references to information pamphlets at the end of the article have March 1985 as the latest date cited. The article, which is limited to one page, was written by the journal's editor who "... assembles the known facts and puts them into a common sense perspective of practical guidelines" (p. 11).
Thus, 1985 could be described as the year in which the beginnings of the basic information required to enable the Union to begin the development of formal policy statements about AIDS in the workplace began to be assembled on file.
These groups recommend a comprehensive educational campaign to inform the public about HIV/AIDS, and initial public awareness and education campaigns are targeted to high risk groups.
Information and counselling hot-lines are established.
One of the earliest relevant documents on file for 1986 was received on 14 January 1986 from the ACTU. This document, numbered as D149/85, and entitled "AIDS", is a two-page general information document which, according to its cover sheet, is a master copy for translation into Greek, Italian, Serbo-Croatian and Spanish. Attached to it is a translation in Greek, presumably to show Unions what a translated document would look like.
On 12 February 1986, the AIDS Task Force issued a press release which was received by the FMWU on 21 February 1986. This document, "Curbing the spread of AIDS in Australia - Problems and responsibilities of those carrying the infection" was, in essence, an appeal to those Australians who knew they were or had been at risk of having the infection from the AIDS related virus to come forward for testing.
Shortly after the above press release, on 25 February 1986, a combined meeting of the members of the Northern Territory AIDS Committee and the AIDS Advisory Group was held with Professor D. Penington. Although an officer of the North Australian Workers' Union (NAWU) was a member of the Northern Territory AIDS Committee, that person was not present at the combined meeting held in February. In spite of this, evidence on file at the National Office of the LHMU suggests that the NAWU was very much concerned with AIDS issues. Not only was it represented on the Northern Territory's AIDS related committee, but it also sent an almost continuous stream of AIDS related documents to Head Office for distribution to other branches. While other branches may have been involved with AIDS issues, the Union's Head Office files do not reflect this to anything like the extent of the involvement demonstrated by the NAWU Branch.
On 17 February 1986, a letter was sent to the Secretary of the Northern Territory Branch of the FMWU from the Research Officer of the ACTU/VTHC Occupational Health and Safety Unit. This letter contained information and workplace related AIDS and Hepatitis B precautionary guidelines for implementation by prison officers. The author of the letter indicated that this material came from a draft prepared in Victoria. Presumably, this information was sent to the Federal General Secretary of the FMWU by the Northern Territory Branch Secretary because, on 26 February 1986, the General Secretary sent a letter to all Branch Secretaries except the NAWU Secretary, enclosing copies of the correspondence received from the VTHC Occupational Health and Safety Unit concerning the AIDS and Hepatitis B information and guidelines, advising that some of the information contained was confidential (at that stage) and requesting that this confidentiality be respected.
On 20 March 1986, the NAWU Branch Secretary wrote to the FMWU General Secretary about Union involvement in AIDS education programs. This letter stated that the types of educational campaigns being run in the state capitals and larger population centres would not be appropriate for isolated/rural areas. Instead, it seemed to the NAWU Branch Secretary, that more could be achieved through relevant unions assisting by distributing information via union journals. Consistent with this theme, the Branch Secretary suggested that the Union consider publishing a section in an up coming Federation News. This would enable information to receive wide circulation.
On 21 April 1986, several AIDS related articles, all authored in the United States of America, were filed. All three had been forwarded from the NAWU with the suggestion that "they might be of interest to other branches". There does not seem to be any record on file to indicate that any of the documents were ever actually forwarded.
An undated document, AIDS - A health report to the nation, which, according to the cover page, resulted from a Reader's Digest Community Service Project sponsored by the National Advisory Committee on AIDS and the Commonwealth Department of Health, not only presents what it claims are the latest statistics on AIDS related deaths in Australia up to April 1986 but also contains a section headed "60 Important Questions and Answers about AIDS for Australian Families". Did the fact that the booklet appeared on file indicate that the information contained in it was disseminated in any way to the rank and file members of the Union? My investigation could not provide a definite answer to this question. Clearly, if the extent of documentation held on file could be seen as an indicator, Union officials were certainly well briefed.
Yet another undated document whose approximate date of issue appears to be in mid-1986 according to information about publications contained in the document, is one entitled AIDS - Guidance notes for people who may be exposed to the AIDS related virus in the course of their work. This document was issued by the Department of Occupational Health, Safety and Welfare with the approval of the Commission of Occupational Health, Safety and Welfare of Western Australia.
It seems apparent that, at this stage, the FMWU was gathering information on AIDS from various sources throughout Australia, and, as a consequence, beginning to amass a useful data base from which to keep its members informed.
A few further items from Victoria, but ostensibly not from the Victorian Branch, also appear on file:An undated leaflet inviting membership of the Victorian AIDS Trust;
As was mentioned in the previous section (1985), a submission was made in 1985 by the Northern Territory Branch of the FMWU for special allowances for prison officers who may be required to work with prisoners with AIDS. While the major documentation, at least by bulk, on file for 1986 appears to be the transcript of the Prison Officers Tribunal proceedings which took place in Darwin on Wednesday, 4 June 1986 and Thursday, 5 June 1986, there appears to be no "on file" record of the outcome of the hearing! It is possible, however, that it may have been filed in Confidential Executive or Council documents.
The next three documents on file are undated. The first of these, "A deadly disease comes to India" appeared to be from a popular magazine such as Time, but there is no indication on the photocopied document on file. The second, an extract from Newsweek, is entitled "The AIDS Doctor - A Profile in Caring" and recounts the story of an American physician's fight to bring high quality care to men and women dying of AIDS. The third document is a letter from the NAWU Branch, received at Head Office towards the end of July 1986. This letter has attached to it an article dealing with AIDS legislation which the Branch Secretary thought might be of interest to other branches. The article itself was taken from a paper presented by the Honourable Mr Justice Michael Kirby to the National Conference on AIDS held in Melbourne on 16 November 1985 and had been published in the Australian Law Journal, 60, (June 1986) pp. 324-332. Also found on this file was a copy of an article, "Insects in cental Africa infected by Aids (sic)" published in The Straits Times on 27 August 1986.
In October 1986, the Federal Council of the FMWU decided that Branches should formally appoint Health and Safety Delegates as delegates in accordance with the Union's rules. This decision would appear to mark the initiation of Occupational Health and Safety Officers in accordance with legislation creating such positions in workplaces in all States and Territories.
Two further articles were placed on file in the latter part of 1986. They were (1) an article, "The toughest virus of all - Can a drug or vaccine be found to vanquish AIDS?" from the 3 November 1986 issue of Time, and (2) an undated article from Enrolled Nurse entitled "The Safety Factors: Protecting Patients - and Ourselves" which highlighted the dangers of accidental needle puncture injury.
It is quite obvious that, although there does not appear to have been any formal development of AIDS related workplace policies thus far, there is strong evidence on file to indicate that the FMWU was keeping itself well informed as to the progress of the epidemic in Australia, and to some extent, at least, overseas. However, as stated earlier, the extent to which communications were actually taking place between the Union bureaucrats and the rank and file members is not at all clear from the documentation.
The Campaign continues with the national distribution of 10 million education booklets aimed at increasing awareness of the HIV/AIDS issue among parents and adolescents.
Various risk groups are then targeted by the Campaign. The ‘Russian Roulette' commercial advises intravenous drug users of the dangers of sharing needles.
The Intergovernmental Committee on AIDS (IGCA) is set up to deal with AIDS issues that require a co-ordinated response from both national and state governments.
AFAO produces its first National AIDS Bulletin, a monthly magazine which provides news, research reports and articles on a broad range of HIV/AIDS issues.
Australia has 385 reported cases of AIDS.
On the basis of the extent of the documentation of file, 1987, the year under review in this section, produced yet another substantial increase in documentation and activity.
One of the first documents filed in 1987 was actually produced in 1986 but was not sent out by the AIDS Co ordinating Unit of the National Advisory Council on AIDS (NACAIDS) until early 1987. The document is headed as Circular Reference 86/26256 Care of a person with AIDS at home. A photocopy of a five page A5 booklet is attached to the letter which advises that multiple copies of the booklet would be available in the near future. The booklet was developed with the assistance of the Fairfield Hospital, Melbourne; the St. Vincent's Hospital, Sydney; the Royal District Nursing Service and the Prince Henry's Hospital in Melbourne as well as the Community Support Network in Sydney.
On 17 February 1987, the FMWU General Secretary wrote to the Secretary of the ACTU about the NHMRC Working Party on Screening of Health Workers advising that the FMWU had circulated the relevant Working Party documents to Branches for comment. The Working Party was scheduled to hold its first meeting on 25 February and discussions were to include screening for HIV infection. Because of the limited time available for the receipt of comments, Branches were asked to send their comments directly to the ACTU. Unfortunately, no copies of any comments which Branches might have forwarded appear on the Union's files.
In a letter to the President of the ACTU (dated 16 March 1987), Catherine Healy, the Council's representative on the AIDS Task Force, presented two recommendations for the consideration of the ACTU's Executive Committee. These recommendations call for the ACTU (and its affiliates) to: (1) endorse and support the National AIDS Education Program, and (2) lobby Federal and State Governments to ensure that the necessary back up services (for example, additional counselling services, AIDS Lines, and Drug Education Lines) are provided for the duration of the Campaign. Attached to the letter were a number of documents including a report from the Chairperson of NACAIDS, a copy of the National Education Strategy for AIDS, the NACAIDS Terms of Reference, a list of NACAIDS members, and a list of advisers to NACAIDS. Healy's recommendations were endorsed by the ACTU. The response of the Federal Executive of the Miscellaneous Workers' Union to Healy's recommendations was as follows:
... the Miscellaneous Workers Union endorses and supports the Australian Government's decision to conduct a National AIDS Education Program.
AIDS is potentially the biggest health problem ever to face Australia and it is imperative that the general public know the truth about the problem at all times.
Education programs are essential to the fight against AIDS and we must avoid moral posturing so as to ensure that not only does the message get through to high risk groups but also the population at large.
It is also essential that State and Federal Governments ensure that the necessary back up services are provided to assist in the education campaign, i.e. additional counselling services, Drug Education Lines and AIDS Lines. (30 March - 1 April 1987 and subsequently reported in Federation News, 14 (2) June 1987, p. 14 )
While this response may be seen as a very positive one, the statement talks about high risk groups rather than high risk activities, thus placing at least moral "blame" on certain groups who were, in many instances, already experiencing discrimination.
As a result of the adoption of this general policy on AIDS, letters were written by the FMWU General Secretary to all Branch Secretaries and the then Federal Minister of Health, Dr Neal Blewett, drawing the statement to their attention. In the case of Branch Secretaries, they were urged to (1) publicise the policy decision to their membership, and (2) write to appropriate State and Federal Government Departments requesting them to provide the necessary back-up services as outlined in the policy.
It is interesting to note that at this stage the position statement approved at the March/April Federal Executive Meeting is described as a "policy". In effect, this enabled the FMWU to announce that it had an AIDS related policy in place.
On 20 May 1987, the General Secretary of the FMWU received a response to his letter to the Federal Minister for Health. The response came from the Assistant Secretary of the Communicable Diseases Branch of the Commonwealth Department of Health, and referred to the Union's position statement as a "strategy" rather than as a "policy". In so far as the comments about the need for additional back-up resources were concerned, the penultimate paragraph of the Assistant Secretary's letter stated:
For your information, State Health Departments throughout Australia were invited to participate in the National AIDS Education Program. Funds were made available to all States and Territories by this Depart- ment for additional telephone and counselling services during the campaign. Many community groups were also funded to supplement existing services. In the first six weeks of the campaign approximately $500 000 was made available for these purposes.
Whether or not the Union's position statement could be defined as a "policy" in the purest interpretation of the word, it was clear that the formulation of AIDS policies were now definitely on the trade union movement's agenda. On 19 August 1987, the ACTU issued Circular No. 423/87 addressed to ACTU Officers, ACTU Executive, Secretaries of State Branches, Provincial Councils and Affiliated Unions. This Circular addressed three issues: (1) AIDS and employment discrimination; (2) the response of the union movement to the AIDS crisis, and; (3) the development of what was described as "a draft policy statement on ‘AIDS'". The inclusion of this third item could reasonably be said to mark the real beginning of the official formulation of AIDS policies by Australian trade unions. Perhaps the FMWU could reasonably claim to have initiated the process with its 1987 Federal Executive position statement.
Filed on 31 August 1987 was a copy of the national Newsletter on Workers Compensation, No. 65 (28 August 1987). The article on the front page of this document is titled "Employers must develop AIDS policy but no major threat of compensation payouts". A note is written next to the heading, which had also been circled, saying, ‘What should we do?' There is no written response on the document. At the end of the article, under a sub-heading, "Workplace AIDS policy" is the following note: "Taped proceedings of the recent seminar on AIDS policy for the workplace are still available. Phone ." Thus, it seems clear that, at this time workplace AIDS policies were also being developed by employer organisations. In other words, what was happening within the trade union movement was being paralleled by what was going on in the workplace in general.
At the end of August, the AIDS Co ordinating Unit of the Commonwealth Department of Health issued its report, Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS): A Cumulative Analysis of Cases in Australia, a most useful document for the Union to have on file.
Also on file I found some handwritten notes author unknown, but possibly the Occupational Health and Safety representative of the FMWU dated 6 November 1987 and from an AIDS related Seminar the purpose of which was to provide an educational package for subsequent use by Union delegates.
A letter filed in the Occupational Health and Safety [ AIDS] file, and dated 9 November 1987, from the Executive Officer of the AIDS Advisory Committee to the Victorian Branch of the FMWU, advised that the Union's long awaited AIDS Report had been printed and was in the process of being released. A copy of the report, dated July 1987, was attached to the letter. A handwritten note, dated 23 August 1989 indicated that the contents were then under review as part of an AIDS related policy review.
In a file of newspaper clippings, "Worker paranoia over AIDS could ‘cost firms billions'" screamed the headlines on page 6 of The Australian on 10 November 1987, adding, I have no doubt, to the already existing paranoia generated by what often appears to be an uncaring, unthinking and unscrupulous media.
On 18 November 1987, the AIDS Council of New South Wales (ACON), sent out an important Circular Letter to Union Secretaries. This Circular Letter is reproduced here in full because of its importance in relation to the formulation of AIDS policies:
DRAFT ACTU POLICY ON AIDSBill Mansfield, ACTU Assistant Secretary, recently circulated a draft ‘Policy Statement on AIDS' under cover of ACTU Circular No. 423/87 dated 19 August 1987. (Copy at Attachment A).
In that circular he asks for comments from affiliates on the draft policy. The Trade Union Working Group of the AIDS Council of New South Wales has recently considered this policy, and in the light of the existing policy of the Labor Council of New South Wales, considers that the revised draft policy at Attachment B is more successful in addressing this complex policy issue.
I urge your union to support this revised policy and to communicate your views to the ACTU.
The AIDS Council is collating a set of employment related policies developed by both unions and employers. If your union has developed a policy on AIDS or related issues, or has entered into any industrial agreements on AIDS or infectious diseases, it would be appreciated if you would forward a copy to the Council.
On 2 December 1987, the FMWU West Australian Branch forwarded to the Federal Office an AIDS policy document in draft form. This action may have been in response to correspondence from the Federal Office to State and Territory Branches. The guidelines for this policy document seem to have become the standard by which AIDS policies were being developed nationally; the paragraph headings used are as follows:• Preamble
The last item listed, Union Strategies, is one about which a great deal of argument has raged, and which, in the end, was generally believed not to have been pursued, although insurance companies are, even in 1995, still endeavouring to force organisations to enforce, i.e. "to encourage and pursue the establishment of a register or registers of those workers exposed to the AIDS virus during the course of their employment so as to ensure financial support from the employer in the event of the illness developing" (UWS Nepean AIDS/Infectious Diseases Committee, 1995). Statements of this kind beg the questions of confidentiality and discrimination, two of the main elements of AIDS related policies.
At its 1987 Congress, the ACTU produced a Health Charter; two of the most relevant paragraphs in the document are concerned with: (1) promoting community awareness of all methods of transmission of the AIDS virus and adoption by the community of sustained and appropriate behavioural changes to prevent the spread of the virus, and; (2) researching all aspects of the AIDS virus and, in particular, the special health and social needs of people who are infected.
Research by the National AIDS Education Campaign prompts an integrated campaign to raise awareness and promote behaviour changes in young heterosexually active people. The "Beds" commercial asks sexually active heterosexuals to consider how the previous sexual behaviour of their partners may put them at risk of contracting the virus. The accompanying "Feet" commercial aims to promote the use of condoms to protect against the transmission of HIV/AIDS.
Campaigns are also developed for Aboriginal and Islander people and the mythical figure of Condoman emerges to promote greater use of condoms.
Australia records its thousandth AIDS case, and officials confirm that 500 Australians have now died.
Nineteen hundred and eighty eight was a very important year in terms of AIDS related policy development and promulgation, with both the ACTU and its affiliated unions being involved.
On 4 January 1988, the ACTU issued Circular No. 5/1988 addressed to ACTU Officers, ACTU Executive, Secretaries of State Branches, Provincial Councils and Affiliated Unions. The topic of this Circular was described as ‘ACTU AIDS Policy' and its purpose was to set out the recommended ACTU policy on AIDS which was to be presented to the next ACTU Executive meeting for endorsement. The proposed policy was endorsed by the ACTU Executive at its 23-25 February 1988 meeting and, immediately after this, became a public document.
In January 1988, the National Advisory Committee on AIDS published an updated AIDS Report. This booklet contained the latest AIDS related statistics as well as general information about the disease, such as how it is spread and not spread, its diagnosis and symptoms, testing for HIV infection, AIDS prevention, AIDS and women, AIDS and children, AIDS and the workplace, and, finally, contact lists for further information. This very useful document appeared on an FMWU file, but did it or copies of it - make its way into the hands of the workers who should have been receiving this information?
An undated document from the West Australian Branch of the FMWU confirmed the approval by its Branch Executive of the AIDS policy proposed for adoption at the end of 1987. However, no information is provided in relation to how that policy might be implemented within the workplaces of Union members.
At its March 1988 meeting, the Federal Executive of the FMWU passed a motion which required its General Secretary to circulate among the Branches copies of both the ACTU policy on AIDS and the West Australian Branch draft policy for their consideration in preparation for an appropriate MWU policy on AIDS to be determined at the July 1988 Federal Executive Meeting. This was done by means of a letter dated 27 April 1988 in which Branches were requested to assist by having their comment in to the Federal Office prior to the July meeting so as to allow the collation of material. Federation News, the FMWU's official journal, carried items from the Federal Executive Meeting of 5-7 July in its September 1988 edition. Under the heading "AIDS", readers are informed "That the Miscellaneous Workers' Union endorses the ACTU policy on AIDS as adopted at the February meeting of the ACTU Executive" (Federation News, 15 (3), p. 14). This policy, which is outlined under three basic headings - Occupational Health and Safety, Education and Training, and Protection of Employees - was officially released after the July meeting.
Throughout this investigation it has been of concern to me that, on the basis of the material on file in the Union's offices in Sydney, there appears to be very little evidence of rank and file members receiving information about AIDS and, if information had been received, responding to it. While it may seem reasonable to expect that the Union's official journal, Federation News would be a principal source of information both from the Union leadership to its rank and file and vice versa, I am doubtful as to the journal's efficacy in this respect. For example, a major policy announcement is assigned to page 14 where it could be very easily overlooked. Furthermore, members who may not have had a direct interest in the issue or who may be of non-English speaking backgrounds are unlikely to have been made aware of the policy through its publication in the journal.
On 13 September 1988, the General Secretary of the FMWU wrote to the Secretary of the ACTU enclosing a copy of the Union's newly adopted AIDS policy, apparently in response to a request from the ACTU:
Re: AIDS AND HEALTH WORKERS
Please find enclosed a copy of our Federal Council's policy on Aids (sic) for your information.
I understand that this information is being sought for the working party which is currently looking at reviewing the ACTU's Aids (sic) Policy.
On 18 November 1988, the General Secretary of the FMWU wrote to all Branches about AIDS in the workplace enclosing a Press Release from Worksafe Australia and a copy of "the new national policy on AIDS and the Workplace as reached by consensus between representatives of the government, unions and employers". In this letter the General Secretary also draws to the attention of the Branches that "(t)he new national policy recommends against testing of workers for the disease and calls for non-discriminatory treatment of those who are antibody positive or have AIDS".
The Union's files for 1988 also contain several other items which, although not directly relevant to the policy development process per se, are of interest in providing a wider insight into the AIDS epidemic. Two documents relate to overseas perspectives; the third highlights a less than helpful Australian media perspective.
In its May 1988 issue, International Affairs published an article entitled, "The joint drive against AIDS". The author was Yevgeni Chazov who, in a note at the bottom of the first page of the article, is described as "Minister of Health of the USSR." In the first sentence of his article, Chazov states that "(s)o far, there is only one person with full blown AIDS in the Soviet Union." Given that, in 1988, the population of the USSR was somewhere in the region of 250 million, this statement would appear to be somewhat unbelievable.
The second article with an overseas perspective is provided by an article, "The HIV/AIDS situation in Sweden", published in the June 1988 issue of the Swedish Institute's journal, Current Sweden. In the first sentence of this article, its author, David Finer, states that "(t)he first case of AIDS in Sweden was diagnosed in 1982". A somewhat more realistic opening sentence than that of Yevgeni Chazov!
The third item, an article under the headline, "Quarantine considered for AIDS victims" was published by The Australian on 23 November 1988. This was written in response to the launch, by the Minister for Community Services and Health, Dr Neal Blewett, of the Federal Government's policy discussion paper, "AIDS: A time to care - A time to act: Towards a strategy for all Australians", which had been tabled in Parliament on the previous day. The Australian managed to headline possibly the most contentious item in the document, no doubt in order to maximise the initial impact on readers.
The Commonwealth AIDS Prevention and Education Program (CAPE) and the Commonwealth AIDS Workforce Information, Standards and Exchange Program (CAWISE) are established to fund education programs for specific community groups, and to ensure information and resource materials on HIV/AIDS are accessible to the Australian workforce.
The National AIDS Education Campaign continues to expand its awareness programs, and targets people of non-English speaking backgrounds and AIDS carers who lack medical or nursing training.
On 25 January 1989, the Industrial Officer of the ACTU sent out Circular No. 043/1989 to Health Unions enclosing a draft paper entitled, "Health Industry AIDS Discussion Paper". Recipients of the Circular were advised that the draft was to be considered at a meeting of Health Unions to be held on 31 January and 1 February 1989.
At its Federal Executive meeting of March 1989, the FMWU decided that the time had come to prepare "a proposal for information to members with respect to AIDS" and recommended that such a proposal be prepared for the consideration of the Federal Executive at its July meeting. Although I have no real evidence to support my contention, it seems likely that the Executive's decision may have related to the nature of publicity then attaching to aspects of the AIDS epidemic. The following filed items are cited as illustrative of the kinds of "mixed press" which AIDS seemed to be attracting during 1989.
A complete copy of the Australian Nurses Journal, 18 (9) [April 1989] was filed in the Union's Occupational Health and Safety [AIDS] file under the sub-section for press clippings. This issue of the journal was ‘special' it that it was devoted, in its entirety, to AIDS. Articles included focused on a range of AIDS related topics such as the experience of AIDS, facts about AIDS, nursing people with AIDS, and living with AIDS. The informed rationality of this publication is in stark contrast to the sensationalism displayed in many of the print media's AIDS related contributions as the following examples demonstrate.
On 3 May 1989, the Sydney Morning Herald carried an article headed "Blewett says no health worker has caught AIDS". On the next day, 4 May 1989, the same newspaper headed an AIDS related article, "AIDS test call by nurses likely". This was followed, on 5 May 1989, by yet another AIDS related article, "Secret AIDS testing revealed", thereby providing more fuel for the fire of public anxiety. A further article, published by the Sydney Morning Herald on 26 May 1989 under the heading "Humble cucumber gives hope of AIDS breakthrough" - yet another instance of media hype giving false hope to people living with HIV/AIDS? In September, the focus of the paper's AIDS related interest extended somewhat to include the issue of HIV contaminated blood transfusions; "AIDS by transfusion: The hundreds who can't be traced" headlined one of two AIDS related articles which appeared in the 19 September edition. The second AIDS related article printed on that day continued the theme of "secret" HIV testing.
But, as indicated earlier, the press clippings on file for 1989 are a "mixed bag" as the following examples reveal: On 1 June 1989, The Financial Review carried a well-researched article entitled, "Negotiating the minefield of AIDS in the workplace". This article, which incorporated material included in a booklet prepared by Worksafe Australia, could be seen as being at the more informed and rational end of the spectrum. However, press sensationalism emerged again in August when the Sydney Morning Herald told its readers on 3 August that government was considering a "special lock-up for AIDS carriers". In between these extremes, were a number of generally adequately written, informative articles about such issues as AIDS and non-gays, AIDS and women, and new government initiatives in relation to AIDS.
According to the Union's files, the period from June 1989 until the end of the year was particularly busy in so far as AIDS related workplace initiatives were concerned.
On 5 June 1989, the Union's Occupational Health and Safety Officer placed on file a draft of "policy principles" concerning students and employees at risk of contracting HIV/AIDS.
Later in the same month, the General Secretary of the FMWU wrote to the Secretary of the ACTU to advise that the FMWU was prepared to participate in the Council's Health Industry AIDS Project. Unfortunately, the files I examined did not contain any further information about the nature and objectives of the Program.
The following are a series of decisions taken by the FMWU's Federal Executive at its July 1989 meeting:
• HEALTH AND SAFETY REGISTERSIt was agreed that the Federal Office would write to Branches requesting information to be supplied for compilation and distribution of:
• ACTU OCCUPATIONAL HEALTH AND SAFETY COMMITTEE
Due to the importance of close communication between the FMWU National Occupational Health and Safety Committee and the ACTU Occupational Health and Safety Committee, it was agreed that the Union's representative on the ACTU Occupational Health and Safety Committee should be a member of the FMWU National Occupational Health and Safety Committee.
It was agreed that a centre spread for inclusion in Federation News be prepared in order to educate members as citizens on the general health issues associated with AIDS as a first step. It was further agreed that the Occupational Health and Safety Committee would develop, as a priority, a policy on infectious diseases in general covering such issues as confidentiality and inoculations.
[NOTE: This initiative came to fruition in September of 1989, when the FMWU journal, Federation News, 16 (3), carried a four page pull-out section (pp. 7-10) headed "Statement from the General Secretary - AIDS and you". This detailed article gave, in word and picture form, a great deal of information to workers about the disease. Sadly, it appears to have been written only in English. Translations may have been available in some form, but this was not stated in the article, and there is no evidence to indicate their availability in the Union's files.]
• HEALTH AND SAFETY ORGANISERS
The primary role of occupational health and safety organisers in the Branches was defined as being to take up occupational health and safety issues on the job in conjunction with the Union organiser. As a consequence of this, it was agreed that occupational health and safety organisers were to hold regular meetings of members to discuss health and safety matters.
Further, it was agreed that Branches would organise on-going programs of action to ensure that all officials are involved in activities to raise awareness, enhance skills and assist in expanding the Union's service to members with respect to occupational health and safety problems.
It was agreed that the following occupational health and safety issues be priorities for policy development by the Occupational Health and Safety Committee due to problems currently being experienced in Branches:workplace medicals;
To this end, it was agreed that the Federal Office will write to Branches requesting information on the problems being experienced in the above areas and for ideas regarding policy development.
On 5 July 1989, the FMWU filed a copy of an AIDS Community Education Grant application made by the ACTU to the Commonwealth Department of Community Services and Health and the Australian National Council on AIDS. One particular paragraph in the grant application is of particular interest within the context of this study because it addresses one of my main concerns, specifically, ‘What information - if any - about AIDS and AIDS education has been getting through to workers from non English speaking backgrounds?'
The content of the relevant paragraph is as follows:
Non English speakers are especially disadvantaged in that they largely form the ‘lower' layers, available information is mainly in English and designed for health professionals, and they perceive themselves to be at risk because of the kinds of work they do exposed to sharp objects, soiled linen, food trays and body fluids.
Also, on 5 July 1989, the FMWU placed on file Circular No. 454/89 (dated 29 June 1989) advising Secretaries of State Branches and Health Industry Unions that an application had been made for funding in order to undertake an education project, "AIDS and the Health Industry Worker".
Later in the same month, (25 July 1989), The Australian carried an ‘open letter' to the Prime Minister which set out what the signatories believed to be the costs and benefits of defeating AIDS in Australia. Most of the arguments presented were drawn from a background paper, "Costs and benefits of defeating AIDS in Australia", which had been prepared by AFAO earlier in the month. The purpose of both documents was the same - to urge a significant increase in the funding of AIDS programs of prevention, care, treatment and research. Although there is no evidence on file to suggest a positive response from the Prime Minister, there seems to be little doubt that HIV/AIDS remained high on the political agenda, as Focal Point, a weekly document emanating from Parliament House in Canberra confirms. Issue Number 28 (dated 1 September 1989) contains an article entitled "A new attack on AIDS" and gives details of the Government's latest initiatives. These are reported as including "(c)ompulsory HIV/AIDS testing for migrants seeking permanent residence, prisoners leaving jail, and people accused of sex offences". These initiatives were described as "part of the Government's new $318.5 million HIV/AIDS Strategy". This issue of Focal Point not only includes the latest statistics on AIDS, but also contains a statement from the Government welcoming the Opposition's bi partisan support for the new strategies.
ACTU Circular No. 825/89, written by the Council's Occupational Health and Safety Co-ordinator to the Health Industry Unions on 14 December 1989, provides an insight into the ACTU's policy development strategy as it related to the AIDS related workplace concerns of health workers. Having drawing the attention of the union officials to the production, earlier in 1989 by the ACTU Health Industry Unions, of an HIV/AIDS discussion paper which formed the first part of a general strategy to educate health industry workers about HIV/AIDS and, eventually, develop appropriate control strategies, the writer then advised that health industry workers were the subject of a recent special feature in a recent edition of the National AIDS Bulletin produced by AFAO. Attached to the Circular are copies of relevant extracts from the Bulletin.
These extracts were listed as follows:Health care workers;
Also on file, having both been published in December 1989 by the New South Wales Anti-Discrimination Board are two fact sheets written especially for employees. The first, "AIDS and Discrimination" draws the attention of readers to their general rights, as citizens, rights in relation to AIDS related discrimination; the second, "AIDS and the Workplace - What You Should Know", focuses on AIDS related workplace discrimination.
The Union's Occupational Health and Safety [Infectious Diseases] file also contains a copy of the fact sheet "AIDS and the Workplace - What You Should Know" as well a various documents relating to Hepatitis in general and Hepatitis B in particular. It would seem that, at this stage, connections were being made between the various types of viral infections and, as a consequence, all were being grouped together for the purposes of policy making.
In April 1995, I visited the Head Office of the ACTU in Melbourne and, amongst copies of documents I acquired from their library was a document, entitled "Occupational Health and Safety Policy 1989". This document is of importance within this study because it outlined various strategies which could be adopted for workers to obtain what were described as "better conditions, including the prevention of injury and ill health caused by the industrial environment." Of particular importance within this context was the ACTU's statement on participative workplace structures because it recognises, unequivocally, the need for workers and management to work together in organised Occupational Health and Safety Committees for the better control of health and safety in the work environment.
One of the first relevant documents filed in 1990, was a short, undated document produced by the Australian Union Movement Communication Services. Entitled "AIDS and the Workplace", this one page document consists essentially of the latest available statistics in graph form. In addition to referring to the need for the ACTU and its affiliated unions to take a joint approach to the development of AIDS related workplace policies, it also makes mention of the Commonwealth Government's National AIDS Strategy, and provides a short statement about how AIDS is and is not spread.
A further undated document, which appears to be a journal article emanating from Worksafe Australia is titled "AIDS and the Workplace - How to deal, with dignity, with workers who contract AIDS". In its introductory paragraph, it claims to be a ‘consensus statement' having been "agreed to by all Australian governments at federal, state and territory levels, the ACTU and the Confederation of Australian Industry, through the National Occupational Health and Safety Commission. It is based on the World Health Organisation/International Labor Office documents on AIDS and the workplace".
On 8 January 1990, the General Secretary of the FMWU wrote to all Branches enclosing a copy of a recently received ACTU Circular which outlined the contents of an article relevant to health workers which had been published in a National AIDS Bulletin. The General Secretary drew the attention of Branch Secretaries to the dangers of contracting AIDS faced by "health workers across the board including home care and pathology workers". In addition, the General Secretary encouraged Branch Secretaries "to use the material as part of our general program to educate our members on the risks of contracting Aids (sic)".
The appearance on the Union's files of two policy documents which are reported as having been adopted by the Federal Council of the LHMU in 1990, has caused me some consternation. According to all of the information I have documented, the FMWU did not become the LHMU until 1992. Consequently, it is difficult to see how they could have been issued by the LHMU in 1990. The two documents are (1) "Policy on medical testing and health surveillance in the workplace (Adopted Federal Council 1990)", and (2) "Policy on infectious diseases at work (Adopted Federal Council 1990)".
At its March 1990 meeting, the Federal Executive of the FMWU (?LHMU) made the following decisions relevant to the focus of this study:
That the Federal Office write to Branches seeking information/drafts on the following issues with a view to preparing policies for endorsement at the July meeting of the Federal Executive:infectious diseases;
• HEALTH AND SAFETY REGISTERS
That Branches be requested to send outstanding information necessary to establish the national occupational health and safety registers.
• HEALTH AND SAFETY COMMITTEE
That the next meeting of the FMWU Occupational Health and Safety Committee be held over two days in mid May to enable the development of draft policies for consideration and endorsement at the July Federal Executive meeting.
On 27 June 1990, the FMWU Assistant General Secretary wrote to all Branch Secretaries enclosing, for their information the minutes of the second meeting of the FMWU National Occupational Health and Safety Committee held on 28 and 29 May, 1990. Updated documents from the National Occupational Health and Safety Commission were attached. One item of particular interest is a report prepared by the South Australian Health Commission's Occupational Health and Safety Committee which includes a draft policy relating to HIV Immuno compromised workers. Within the preamble of this draft, "the potential tragedy of AIDS is humanely discussed and the working rights of those affected are examined in detail". It is noted that the draft was first released on 9 April, with wide circulation; it was anticipated that the policy would be finalised by July 1990.
On 24 July 1990, the Assistant General Secretary of the FMWU, wrote to all Branch Secretaries drawing their attention to "HIV/AIDS and the Workplace - Information for Health Workers and Others At Risk", a new pamphlet produced by Worksafe Australia. The issues which arise for me at this point are (a) whether or not the pamphlet was ordered in sufficient quantity to be made available to the Union's "at risk" members and (b) whether or not it was available in languages other than English. Unfortunately, the Union's files are silent in respect of both of these questions.
While I could find no record on file of the agenda and outcomes of the July meeting of the Union's Federal Executive, information relating to the October 1990 meeting was available for examination. Of the decisions made, one could be seen as being relevant to my study. That decision is as follows:
The policies developed by the Occupational Health and Safety Committee in relation to infectious diseases, workplace medical examinations, back pack vacuum cleaners, freezer room working conditions, drugs in the workplace, and heat stress and previously circulated to Branches for comment were endorsed.
While it is difficult enough to deal with undated AIDS related articles or pamphlets of one kind or another, it is even more difficult to deal with undated letters from Union officials. When assessed on the basis of its content, the following letter would appear to have been written in the latter part of 1990:
From the Assistant General Secretary of the FMWU to all Branches
RE: FEDERAL COUNCIL - OHS POLICIES
This is to inform Branches that the draft FMWU OHS policies previously circulated to Branches (5th September 1990) on the following issues were adopted at the 1990 Federal Council:Drugs in the Workplace;
Branches are requested to initiate negotiations with the relevant employers to implement these FMWU policies.
On 18 December 1990, the FMWU Assistant General Secretary wrote a letter to all Branches advising that Workplace Australia had developed a consensus statement on Hepatitis B and the workplace. No reference was made in this letter to AIDS in the workplace.
The Federal Government launches an integrated national campaign to halt the spread of HIV/AIDS among gay and bi-sexual men. The campaign theme that Feeling Doesn't Stop HIV - Safe Sex Does, is designed to clarify the safety of certain sexual practices in the context that feelings of love, trust and intimacy do not in themselves prevent infection.
"Travel Safe" is launched as part of the Government's National HIV/AIDS Strategy which calls for the development of effective AIDS education programs directed at International and Australian Travellers. The campaign aims to inform inbound and domestic travellers and Australians travelling overseas of the need to protect themselves and others against HIV infection and AIDS.
The issue of health workers and HIV/AIDS related workplace safety was very much the dominant theme of the documents held in the Union's files for the year 1991.
One of the first documents filed for the year was an article from the Sydney Morning Herald, dated 4 January. Written by David Buchanan who at that time was Secretary of the AIDS Council of New South Wales (ACON), the article was headed "Health workers' attitudes awry over AIDS". Buchanan, responding to medical opinions favouring the introduction of compulsory HIV antibody testing as a way of reducing the possibility of health professionals being accidentally infected with the AIDS virus, contended that "(c)oercive testing of patients offers no solution to the threat of accidental infection by the AIDS virus and may even have a negative effect on safety campaigns".
A rather different document from the majority of those on file is a story written by a journalist for possible publication in a new ACTU magazine. The initial draft of the story had been submitted to the General Secretary of the FMWU for comment on 21 February 1991. The story, as written by the journalist, is as follows:
It (the FMWU) is always looking for a fresh injection of members. This year, for instance, it is campaigning to organise so called blood collectors in NSW. Their name belies the scope of their work, for which they have no fixed wages or training and accreditation structure.
Carol Singh, 49, of Sydney, is one of them. An FMWU member for six years, she points out that they (blood collectors) may be called on to do pap smears, ECGs, lung function tests, and cross matching of blood for transfusions.
She says that unprotected, non unionised collectors regularly have to handle infected blood especially those who work as couriers between AIDS clinics and pathology centres.
‘Some might carry 2,300 specimens a day and for that they get $10 an hour,' she said. ‘They're drivers as well, but they get no danger money and no allowance for the pressures. They get 23 cents a kilometre car allowance. They're walking around with time bombs.'
These workers only pay $5 a year membership fee to the union until they get award coverage. But Carol feels at least until then, she has some back up.
Say she accidentally pricks herself with an AIDS infected needle. ‘How am I going to prove I did that? Who can you go to if you don't go to the union?' she said.
The issue of accidental needle injuries provided the reason for a letter from the Victorian State Secretary of the FMWU to the General Secretary, dated 28 February 1991. Under the heading, "Occupational Health and Safety Policy", the Victorian State Secretary wrote: Please find enclosed a proposed newsletter to be forwarded to the Victorian Branch Health and Safety Representatives re the needle menace.
I enquire if the contents of same would be in conflict with any policy decision adopted by our Federal OH&S Committee.
Obviously, there was no conflict, for on 7 March 1991, the FMWU Assistant General Secretary wrote to all Branches (except Victoria) under the heading, "Occupational Health and Safety - Needle stick Injuries". The content of that letter is as follows: Please find enclosed for your information an FMWU Newsletter pro- duced by the Victorian Branch on Guidelines for the Safe Removal of Needles to assist members exposed to needles in the course of their duties.
The Union's involvement with health care workers also increased significantly during 1991. The April 1991 edition of Federation News contained the following statement: As part of the ACTU union rationalisation plans the FMWU has been declared the principal health union in South Australia, Western Australia and the Northern Territory with respect to ancillary and some professional categories of work in the Health Industry.
This ‘principal' union status means that the FMWU will play an integral role in the Health Industry around Australia.
Also noted in the same issue was the fact that "the long awaited Occupational Health and Safety (Commonwealth Employment) Bill 1990, currently before Parliament, covers the employees of Commonwealth departments, statutory authorities, Government Business Enterprises and companies".
The June 1991 issue of Federation News gave details of the FMWU National Occupational Health and Safety Committee's activities, including the development of policies on infectious diseases, drugs in the workplace, medical screenings, heat stress, working in freezer rooms and using backpack vacuum cleaners. It will be recalled that all of these policies were approved for adoption by the Union's Federal Executive in October of 1990 some nine months prior to this information being published in Federation News.
During 1991, several AIDS related documents were released by organisations which had significant working links with the FMWU. The Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations (AFAO) released the third edition of a pamphlet entitled "AIDS and Your Rights". This pamphlet was written by the Legal Working Group of ACON; funding was provided by the Commonwealth Department of Community Services and Health. The ACTU released its "Occupational Health and Safety Strategy 1991". This strategy was designed to be implemented with the assistance of affiliates working through the National Occupational Health and Safety Commission, to achieve various listed occupational health and safety objectives in a number of defined workplace settings.
For its part, the Federal Executive of the FMWU continued its involvement in the development of AIDS related occupational health and safety policies. This is perhaps best exemplified by several of the decisions taken at the Executive's July 1991 meeting. These included:
INFECTIOUS DISEASES POLICYAdding a section to the policy in recognition of the need to provide extended support;
ESTABLISHMENT OF A STANDARD FORMAT FOR OCCUPATIONAL HEALTH AND SAFETY POLICIES
The new policy was formally adopted for release.On 18 September 1991, the Chief Executive of the National Occupational Health and Safety Commission wrote to the members of the Standards Development Standing Committee in relation to the development of a National Code of Practice on HIV/AIDS for Health Workers and Others at Risk requesting that they consider and endorse a project brief (attached) and nominate suitable people for membership of the expert working group. His attached brief examined the target groups, the content and the expected outcomes of a code developed by Worksafe Australia.
It was evident from the nature of the documents examined, that the trade union movement, at all levels, was now taking a much more systematic approach to AIDS related policy development than had been the case just a few short years ago.
The National AIDS Archive Collection is launched at the Australian National University. The project aims to collect and document all educational material produced in Australia since AIDS first became an issue.
A strategy to evaluate Australia's response to HIV/AIDS is being developed. This evaluation will coincide with the end of the first policy framework.
It is estimated by the National Centre for HIV Epidemiology and Clinical Research that 16,586 Australians are infected with HIV, while 3,289 have been reported with AIDS, of whom 2,367 have died.
On the basis of the documents held on file at the Union's National Office, one of the key AIDS related challenges for the union movement during 1992 was the formulation of a National Code of Practice for Health Care Workers and Other People at Risk of HIV Transmission. The first meeting of the National Occupational Health and Safety Commission's Expert Working Group (NOHSC EWG), the group given responsibility by Worksafe Australia to develop the Code, was held early in 1992. ACTU representation on the Working Group was provided from the FMWU Western Australian Branch. On 10 March 1992, the National Office of the FMWU received a copy of the report of the first meeting. Reports or notes of subsequent meetings are also on file. By June, a fifth draft had been prepared and faxed to members of the Expert Working Group for comment. On 13 October 1992, the Assistant General Secretary of the LHMU (the FMWU's "successor") sent a letter to all Branches:
Please find enclosed a copy of the Draft National Code of Practice for Health Care Workers and Other People at Risk of Transmission of Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) and Hepatitis B in the workplace produced by Worksafe Australia.
Public Comment closes on 31st December 1992.
A useful initiative which seems to have originated in 1992 was the provision, on a regular basis, by the LHMU Library, of current awareness reports. One of the first of these reports was a listing of the AIDS related publications held on the Union's files.
In addition to those already mentioned, the Union's 1992 files contain a variety of documents, the relevance of which to this study is somewhat tenuous. However, among these are several worth at least a brief comment. Included in this category is one of the fortnightly information newsletters issued by Worksafe Australia, "HIV and AIDS in the Workplace". This newsletter, dated 28 February 1992, provides details about sources of information on HIV/AIDS, including the information about leaflets and the organisations which publish them.
On 21 April 1992, the Secretary of the Legal Working Party of the Intergovernmental Committee on AIDS, Commonwealth Department of Health, Housing and Community Services, sent out a letter headed, "Calls for Submissions in Response to HIV/AIDS Discussion Papers". The content of this letter was as follows:
If you have not yet made a submission in response to either the First or Second Series of Discussion Papers, or if you want to make a sub- mission in response to the papers enclosed here's your chance. If you do forward a response, then you will automatically be placed on a mailing list to receive a free copy of the Final Report which is due for release later in 1992.
Submission papers were attached to the letter, but there is no evidence that the Union actually made a submission.
An article in the Business Review Weekly of 24 April 1992 entitled "Coping with AIDS in the workplace" pointed out that, like the rest of the Australian population, employers are still coming to terms with the disease and are adopting different strategies to deal with staff diagnosed as HIV positive or as having AIDS.
The HIV infection risks faced by health care workers in the workplace provide the focus for several documents. On 4 May 1992, Dr Serge Bajada, Medical Director of Dexin Limited, sent the following letter to the General Secretary of the FMWU:
Find enclosed a print media package informing on the dangers to hospital patients and staff of acquiring AIDS or hepatitis during medical procedures.
The Health Department's ignorance of current neurological testing methods, is putting the community at risk, whilst the government can expect a flood of new compensation claims as a result of this.
While it is recorded that this is at least the second time this documentation has been sent to the Union, there is no information recorded as to the credibility of the author.
Focus on New South Wales, the journal of the MWU Division of the LHMU's NSW Branch, carried an article on health and safety in its Spring 1992 issue. Entitled "Study looks at virus risk for child care workers", the article states that "the LHMU, in conjunction with the Independent Teachers' Association, is funding a study to find out what proportion of child care workers are affected by a virus called cytomegalovirus (CMV)." The intention is that the study should focus on those people who are at most serious risk, such as "... pregnant women and people whose immune systems are suppressed, like organ transplant recipients or HIV/AIDS sufferers."
The Summer 1992 edition of Focus on New South Wales carried an article, "Needle injury spurs union safety campaign". In this article it was stated that The Union is pressing contract cleaning companies to enforce safety standards after a member was stabbed by a needle while cleaning public toilets. The member could have contracted Hepatitis B or the HIV virus and the accident highlights a serious issue for all cleaners who work in areas used by the public.
It would seem that, having established a "needle policy" for health care workers, the Union was recognising that the time had come to ‘extend' that policy to cover the circumstances which might be encountered by other workers covered by the LHMU.
An article, entitled "Complacency increases AIDS risk - Time for education campaigns to concentrate on the workplace" was printed in The Australian on 27 January 1993. This article claims that workers fears about catching HIV in the workplace have been replaced by a dangerous attitude of complacency. The article discusses at length the problems of complacency and strategies for dealing with this attitude.
On 29 April 1993, the Australian Financial Review carried an article in its Survey on Health and Safety Section entitled "Code for health workers on HIV". This introductory section of article stated:
A draft national code released last year by Worksafe Australia is part of the overall attempt to reduce the likelihood of health care workers being infected with HIV and Hepatitis B.
The draft code was designed to stimulate public discussion.
As yet no formal guidelines have come into operation.
But the procedures outlined by the code indicate the sort of sensible policies needed to limit the spread of the virus.
The article discusses the items in the draft code such as aspects of needle stick injuries and precautions to be taken when handling "sharps". Matters such as education, up to date information, development of policies, management, and union leadership support are also discussed.
Relevant to the issues of needle stick injury and the handling of "sharps" are two undated leaflets published by the LHMU in ?1993. The titles of these leaflets are: (1) "The needle stick policy How can I get the Code to work", and; (2) "Sharps, Blood/Body Fluid Accidents".
On 11 October 1993, the Assistant General Secretary of the LHMU sent a letter to all Branch Secretaries. The topic of the letter was described as: "National Consensus Statement on HIV Infection, AIDS and the Workplace." The text of the letter follows: Please find enclosed for your attention a copy of a draft National Consensus Statement on HIV infection, AIDS and the Workplace developed by Worksafe Australia.
It is intended as an update of the earlier version agreed by employers, unions and Governments in 1986.
This up date is largely overdue and addresses current important workplace issues e.g. confidentiality, anti discrimination issues. It is based on the World Health Organisation/ILO Document on Aids (sic) and the Workplace.
The ACTU is seeking endorsement by unions before replying to Worksafe Australia.
The ACTU OHS Committee met on 8/10/93 and endorsed the Consensus Statement in principle subject to any further union comments received at the ACTU by 15/10/93.
An extract from the Letters to the Editor section of the Medical Journal of Australia (18 April 1994) had a letter marked for the attention of the LHMU Federal Occupational Health and Safety Officer. This letter reported a case of acute fulminant hepatitis B following a spit in the eye by a Hepatitis B e antigen negative carrier. It is noted that "This is the first report of infection following contamination of the conjunctiva by saliva, although saliva has been shown to be a source of infection in animal experiments by inoculation and in human transmission following a bite."
Also on file was an undated letter about the transmission of HIV and Hepatitis B which contained the following paragraph:
The recent concern over the transmission of HIV infection between patients involved in minor surgery by an experienced surgeon on the same day led to a cautionary letter from the Chief Medical Officer of the New South Wales Health Department to registered doctors, accompanied by a copy of a Journal article about preventing HIV and Hepatitis B virus (HBV) transmission in general practice.
Copies of both of the letters referred to above were sent to Branches on 24 May 1994.
Focus on New South Wales, the NSW Branch journal of the LHMU's MWU Division carried an article in its Spring 1994 edition on needle stick policy, stating that The LHMU is one of the driving forces drawing together a national policy on needle stick injuries for the contract cleaning industry.
The new policy is being drawn up by unions, employers and the Federal Government and is being managed by Worksafe Australia, the National Occupational Health and Safety Commission. The policy will tell workers what to do if they suffer a needle stick injury and set up reporting guidelines.
An LHMU Newsletter, issued in September 1994 as a "special edition" referred to an industrial award which the Union had managed to achieve for pathology workers, on the grounds that these workers were particularly vulnerable to the possibility of infectious diseases by virtue of the nature of their work.
Federation News (December 1994) not only included a section headed "Your Letters" but also contained an insert clipped in to the middle of the journal and headed "Here's the thirteen language guide to the best of the December 1994 issue of Federation News." Although there was no specific article in the issue which dealt with HIV/AIDS, other occupational health and safety issues were featured quite prominently throughout.
In March 1995, the LHMU journal Federation News carried a new section on occupational health and safety - "this is the first of a regular series of workplace health and safety pages for Federation News readers. The page will bring you the latest in occupational health and safety issues from around Australia and offer you some practical advice on how to make your workplace safer."
This issue of the journal, however, did not have the insert with information about 13 languages being available as had been included in the previous issue.
The following chapter presents a discussion of the findings outlined in the previous pages.
World AIDS Day NSW 2007
of the Groves
LESBIAN & GAY SOLIDARITY PAGE
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This page updated 19 MAY 2014 and again on 11 OCTOBER 2016