Zero discrimination day

Zero discrimination at workplace benefits everyone

Achieving zero discrimination needs actions from government, employers, workers and every individual in the society. Zero discrimination is more than protecting the interest of people living with HIV. It is about paving a path for qualified and capable workers – despite their HIV status – to help improving quality healthcare, education, and other industries.

Feature | 01 March 2017
Teachers and students at a vocational training centre in Tianjin, China
With a sigh and a faint voice at the other end of the telephone, Xiao Wang is not your typical master graduate. He called the legal hotline supported by the ILO for help as he was refused a teacher’s job because of his HIV status. After having learned about his medical exam results, the local Education Department informed him about its decision. With more than ten years of teaching experience, Xiao Wang was competent for the post. His written exam and interview scores, in fact, ranked him as the best candidate for the job.

“This rejection totally destroys my dream of being a teacher, and all my life efforts were wasted.” the 36-year-old young man told the legal aid hotline, “I need to understand what to do next. I wonder if I still have a chance to be a teacher. “

Xiao Wang is not alone. In China, people with HIV often report rights violations in employment, medical treatment and other spheres. Since 2010, seven HIV employment discrimination cases were filed in court, but none of them convinced the court. According to the China CDC, by the end of 2016, there were 654,000 reported cases of people with HIV in the country. UNAIDS estimates the unemployment rate of people living with HIV in China is three times higher than the national unemployment rate.

Discrimination towards people with HIV in employment is still embedded in government policy. For instance, the Medical Standards of Recruitment of Civil Servants in China disqualify people with HIV from entering the civil service and taking jobs such as teachers, healthcare workers, or other positions in both public and private organizations. Many employers in the private sector prefer following the Medical Standards developed by the government rather than formulating their own recruitment policies even though China’s Employment Promotion Law of 2007 bars discrimination in recruitment. For employers, obviously utilizing the government standards is a safe option. According to a study conducted by the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security in 2016, 17 province-level governments have policies in written form which state clearly that people with HIV shall not be admitted to teaching positions.

“Health qualification tests are required of all candidates for positions as teachers, civil service and sometimes others. Those who test positive for HIV are prohibited from working for the government in any capacity, including as teachers and health workers”, said the public interest lawyer in charge of the legal hotline supported by the ILO.

The ILO adopted a Recommendation concerning HIV and AIDS and the World of Work (Recommendation, 2010(No. 200). It serves as an authoritative global guidance influencing policies and programmes in every workplace. Recommendation 200 recalls that workers should not be subjected to HIV-related stigma and discrimination in any aspect of the employment relationship, including selection and recruitment and terms and conditions of employment. Measures should be in place to ensure the application of the principle of non-discrimination. HIV status alone should not be a ground for termination of employment, denial of access to a job or occupation, or a ground for a medical finding of lack of fitness for work. The promotion of equality of opportunity and treatment must include respect for workers’ human rights; ensuring gender equality and the empowerment of women, and measures against violence and harassment in the workplace; empowerment of workers regardless of their sexual orientation; promotion and protection of reproductive health; and support for the confidentiality of workers’ personal medical data.

Where workers are free from stigma and discrimination on the basis of real or perceived HIV status, they and their dependants do no longer have to fear exclusion but are encouraged to benefit from improved access to HIV education, information, treatment, care and support at the national and workplace levels. Such access helps them to lead long and productive lives and to contribute to the national economy and the community.

On the road to zero discrimination

In some respects, China has made, actually, solid progress in developing policies and programs to address HIV-related stigma and discrimination. Since 2004, both central and local governments have either introduced or revised laws, regulations and rules to eliminate discrimination against people with HIV. The Law of the People’s Republic of China on the Prevention and Treatment of Infectious Diseases, was amended in 2004 to add the following passage: “Employers and individuals should not discriminate against people with infectious diseases, carriers of pathogens or those suspected of carrying an infectious disease”.

In 2006, China ratified the Discrimination (Employment and Occupation) Convention, 1958 (No. 111) and subsequently in 2007 promulgated the Employment Promotion law, demonstrating the resolve of the government to achieve a fair and just society for all.

In recent years, some provincial governments have also developed policies and recognition of the equal rights of people living with HIV to work as teachers. The Department of Education of Guangdong Province initially included HIV as a health condition to disqualify candidates to teaching positions in the early draft of the Medical Standards of Recruitment of Teachers in Guangdong Province. This condition was removed from the final draft after receiving comments and suggestions during public consultation, to which the ILO, UNAIDS and UNESCO participated.

Getting to zero together

The newly issued Action Plan for the Thirteen Five-Year Plan for Combating and Prevention of HIV and AIDS by the State Council states clearly that “protecting the legitimate rights and interests of people with HIV in seeking jobs is critical”. Achieving zero discrimination needs actions from government, employers, workers and every individual in the society. Zero discrimination is more than protecting the interest of people living with HIV. It is about paving a path for qualified and capable workers – despite their HIV status – to help improving quality healthcare, education, and other industries.

“Zero discrimination is not only just about formulating abstract aspirations at the policy level. It is about all of us gradually but insistently challenging mind-sets and values so that every single person’s contribution to economic life is considered on merit and no one is excluded for reasons that are irrelevant to the job at hand. Policy has to set the example,” says Tim De Meyer, Director of the ILO Country Office for China and Mongolia.

Xiao Wang received strong technical and psychological support from the legal aid hotline. The public interest lawyer identified by the hotline was able to help Xiao Wang get RMB 80,000 compensation from the school. Xiao Wang lost his chance to perform what he can do best – teaching. The school missed out on having the best qualified candidate to join its teaching crew and had to pay compensation on top. The perfect lose-lose situation.

“I overcame hardship, thanks to the legal aid hotline, I wish the day of no discrimination had come earlier so that I could have told others about my HIV status as if I had got a bad cold.” Xiao Wang told the hotline staff when sharing his good news as a teacher in a private school recently.