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Aids casts shadow over SA business

Nine percent of companies included in a new survey showed that HIV/Aids has already had a significant adverse impact on their business, the South African Business Coalition on HIV/Aids (Sabcoha) announced on Wednesday.

Forty-three percent envisaged a significant negative impact over the next five years.

Speaking in Johannesburg, at the release of the results of the survey, Sabcoha spokesperson Leighton McDonald said: ”South African businesses are already being confronted by the dire consequences of HIV/Aids and the response of business to the pandemic urgently need to be speeded up.

He said 1 006 companies throughout the country participated in the survey.

”This is the largest survey on the impact of HIV/Aids on business in South Africa to date”.

More than a third of the companies surveyed indicated that HIV/Aids has reduced labour productivity or increased absenteeism and raised the cost of employee benefits.

About 30% of companies reported higher labour turnover rates, 27% indicated that they have lost experience and

skills, and 24% incurred recruitment and training costs due to the epidemic.

”Given that only 8% of all the companies surveyed expect to be able to pass some of these HIV/Aids-related costs on to customers by increasing their selling prices, it is not surprising that so many reported that HIV/Aids is having an adverse impact on profits,” McDonald said.

It appeared HIV/Aids has had a smaller or less noticeable impact on the demand side than on the production side of business in South Africa.

Less than 10% of the companies surveyed have noticed a negative impact on their sales, he said.

McDonald said three times as many expect the epidemic to have an adverse impact on sales in five years’ time.

When employers were asked about the impact of HIV/Aids on their employment decisions, 18% of the companies surveyed said they foresaw appointing extra employees — also known as work shadowing — to compensate for the impact of HIV/Aids on labour productivity, absenteeism and mortality.

Less than 15% reported investing in machinery or equipment to reduce their dependence on labour.

Only 6% of the respondents indicated that HIV/Aids has had an adverse impact on their decision to invest in South Africa.

McDonald said: ”The results from the Sabcoha survey suggest that most companies in South Africa have failed to respond to the epidemic.

”Only a quarter of all the firms surveyed have implemented a formal HIV/Aids policy, while less than a fifth have a voluntary counselling and testing programme, or provide care, treatment and support to infected workers.”

”Employers are doing slightly better on the softer, less resource-intensive interventions, such as the implementation of an HIV/Aids workplace awareness programme.

”Overall, 41% of respondents indicated that they have implemented an HIV/Aids awareness programme,” he said.

McDonald said employer responses to the epidemic also appeared to be linked to company size, with most large companies indicating that they have an HIV/Aids policy and small companies (with fewer than 100 employees) having done little in the way of action against the epidemic.

”Small and medium enterprises are an important source of employment in South Africa, and since their existence may be threatened as the epidemic peaks, it is imperative that they react strategically to HIV/Aids.”

He said the impression of most companies was that HIV/Aids would have a small to moderate impact on their business, and some companies have introduced HIV/Aids programmes to reduce the impact of the epidemic.

”However, these perceptions and employer strategies may well be based on insufficient or inaccurate information, as less than 15% of all employers surveyed have conducted research to assess the impact of HIV/Aids on their labour force, production costs or consumer base.”

McDonald said the response of business to HIV/Aids needs to be speeded up.

”With rising HIV prevalence and clear evidence of the adverse impact of the epidemic on business in South Africa, companies should not be lagging behind with regard to the implementation of HIV/Aids policies and programmes.

”It is our hope that the results from this survey will assist the private sector in recognising the business case for further action against HIV/Aids in the workplace and beyond,” he said. — Sapa

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