Amendment to end dismissal based on HIV status

The Botswana government has passed an amendment to its Employment Act that will bring an end to dismissal based on an individual's sexual orientation or HIV status, but rights groups believe the legislation needs to go further.



Civil society organizations in Botswana welcomed the move but said legislation to protect the rights of people living with HIV in the workplace was necessary.



In a 30 August statement, the Botswana Network on Ethics, Law and HIV/AIDS (BONELA) said that it had evidence that some employers had been using HIV status as grounds for dismissal, and welcomed the amended Employment Act as "a progressive move on the part of government, which is likely to uproot stigma and discrimination within the workplace".



The rights group noted that "tolerance and acceptance of sexual minorities will ensure universal access to prevention, treatment, care and support - crucial for Botswana to achieve its ... goal of zero new HIV infections by 2016".



Gadzani Mhotsha, Secretary General of the Botswana Federation of Trade Unions (BFTU), told IRIN/PlusNews: "While we appreciate this amendment as a step in the right direction, for us it is not comprehensive enough in dealing with the serious issues of HIV at the workplace ... the best way to deal with ... [employers] is to come up with full legislation on an issue - not piecemeal amendments."


















More on HIV in the workplace
 Guidelines for labour judges and magistrates
 A workplace policy on HIV/AIDS: What it should cover
 Guidelines on HIV/AIDS for the transport sector

BONELA's legal officer, Dikeledi Dingake, said in a statement that a specific HIV Employment Act should be passed. "The HIV/AIDS Employment Law, as envisaged by BONELA, should pay attention to matters of reasonable accommodation for those who are HIV-positive, ensuring they have a safe and supportive environment to access treatment, care and support."



Civil society has also called on the government to enact laws prohibiting private sector employers from testing potential employees for HIV and subsequently disqualifying them on the basis of an HIV-positive status.



"This practice is not only discriminatory, but puts productive people who may contribute meaningfully to the country's development [out of action]," Dingake commented.

 

The International Labour Organization (ILO) Committee of Experts noted in a recent report on Botswana's labour legislation that the amended Employment Act "only prohibits discrimination in respect of termination of employment contracts".



"The Committee hopes that the government will take this opportunity to include more comprehensive provisions to prohibit direct and indirect discrimination in employment and occupation, including, with regard to recruitment and selection, all terms and conditions of employment and training."



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