Bill to protect HIV-positive workers debated

Maputo- Mozambique (PANA) -- Participants in a public debate on draft legislation seeking to protect workers who carry the HIV virus that causes AIDS on Monday called for "severe measures" against employers who discriminated against HIV-positive workers.
The debate was organised by the Social Affairs Commission of the Mozambican parliament, the Assembly of the Republic, and attracted a wide range of participants, notably from NGOs involved in the struggle against AIDS, and from the trade union movement.
The bill, as presented by the commission, states that there should be no discrimination among workers because of their HIV status.
No worker should be denied training or promotion because he or she is HIV-positive, it adds.
If the bill becomes law, the sacking of workers merely because they are HIV-positive will become a form of unfair dismissal, for which workers are entitled to compensation under the country's labour law.
Anyone who can prove that they were not recruited by an employer because of their HIV status will be entitled to compensation of six months wages of the job they were applying for.
The bill also outlaws compulsory HIV testing.
Workers may voluntarily request an HIV test - but this must be carried out in an authorised health unit, and not in the workplace.
HIV-positive workers enjoy the right to confidentiality, and cannot be obliged to reveal their HIV status to their employers, the draft law says.
When an HIV-positive worker is no longer able to fulfil his normal duties at work, the employer is obliged to redirect him, with new training if necessary, to other work.
The clause which will certainly cause most alarm among employers, is one that obliges them to provide medical care for their HIV-positive workers, even after they are no longer able to work.
This care, however, is limited to the forms of social security already in existence, so it is not carte blanche for workers to demand that their employers pay for extremely expensive treatment with anti-retroviral drugs.
But employers will have to pay for this treatment for workers who are infected with HIV in the course of their work.
Those most at risk are health workers, both in the national health service and in private clinics, who may come into contact with contaminated blood, and needles.
In such cases of accidental infection, "in addition to the compensation to which the workers are entitled, the employer must guarantee adequate medical care to alleviate their state of health.
" During the Monday debate, participants demanded further strengthening of the bill, since they thought the penalties were not tough enough.
Forcing workers to take HIV tests, violating the confidentiality of HIV-positive workers, and discriminating against workers on the basis of their HIV-status are offences which, under the terms of this bill, will be punished with fines of between 50 and 150 times the national minimum wage - which currently stands at 665,707 meticais (about 32 US dollars) a month.
Jurist Luisa Chadraca said she thought these fines were too low, and would not discourage employers from discriminating against their HIV-positive staff.
Academic Miguel de Brito thought the bill should go further, and ban outright any sacking of HIV-positive workers.
In his view, fines would not stop unscrupulous employers: instead "there should be an explicit ban on expelling HIV-positive people from their workplaces".
The chairman of the Social Affairs Commission, former health minister Aurelio Zilhao, warned that in itself a new law would not be sufficient to end discrimination.
He said it was also necessary to increase the flow of information about AIDS within Mozambican society, so that people understood that they could not catch AIDS from normal social or professional contact with their HIV-positive colleagues.
The projections presented by the social affairs commission are that the number of deaths from AIDS in Mozambique, estimated at 230,000 by the end of 2000, will rise to 300,000 by the end of this year, and to 390,000 by the end of 2002.
The commission warned of the impacts of AIDS on the economy - these include a high rate of absenteeism, a decline in productivity, reduced investment capacity, and reduced availability of foreign currency.

11 june 2001 22:07:00

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