HIV tests compulsory for Punjab transport workers

The Punjab government has asked truck and taxi owners in the state to ensure that their drivers and other employees undergo tests for HIV at least once a year.

Amending the Punjab Motor Transport Workers Rules, 1963, the government has added a clause making it compulsory for all transport workers to undergo the tests at civil hospitals. The new rules also state that in case a worker is found to be HIV positive, the employer would ensure his free treatment.

Issuing a notification in this regard, the department of labour, Punjab, said it had invited objections to the amendment before finalising it. “We have not received any objection to the rules and these would come into force from the date of the notification,” said Raminder Singh, states labour commissioner.

Though the amendment is timely with the National AIDS Control Programme-III focusing on reducing the risk of HIV among truckers, the State AIDS Control Society is likely to raise objections to it.The society follows the guidelines of the National AIDS Policy which do not allow compulsory testing.

Chitleen K. Sethi, for Tribune News Service

“No one can be tested compulsorily for AIDS except those falling in certain pre-listed categories and truckers do not fall in those categories,” said Dr N.M Sharma, additional project director, Punjab State AIDS Control Society. Truck unions would object to the state governments move, he added.

The labour commissioner, however, pointed out that the Maharashtra government had already amended its rules to include the clause. “We have been keeping track of what other states have been doing in this regard and this amendment is urgently needed in Punjab,” he said. The draft rules were made public in September and a period of six weeks was given, but no objections were received.

Punjab has a flourishing transport business and truck unions run almost a parallel economy. According to the National AIDS Control Programme-III, nearly 36 per cent of the truckers visit sex workers. “Truckers represent a key sub-segment of the total male client population. Because long-distance truckers move throughout the country, those who are at a higher risk of HIV can form transmission bridges from the higher to the lower prevalence areas,” states the programme.

In order to ensure compliance, the labour department will depute a special inspector to ensure that the truck and taxi owners have got their workers tested for HIV. “The employer will have to produce a certificate by December 31 every year clarifying the status.We have added a penalty clause in the rules which will come into force in case there is non-compliance,” said Raminder Singh.

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