The Guardian: Teacher wins China milestone claim for HIV-related job discrimination

03 February 2013

China Labour Bulletin is quoted in the following article. Copyright remains with the original publisher.

Jonathan Kaiman in Beijing

31 January 2013

An aspiring teacher in south-east China has become the country's first person to win compensation for an HIV-related employment discrimination, according to state media reports. The ruling presents a milestone in the country's long-running effort to overcome its notorious employment discrimination problems and intense social stigma associated with the disease.

The man, known by the pseudonym Xiao Hua, received 45,000 yuan (£4,600) in damages from the Jinxian county educational bureau in Jiangxi province for being denied a teaching post because a pre-employment health check showed that he was HIV-positive, China's state newswire Xinhua reported.

"HIV-infected people face this kind of situation every day, but those who really take it to court are extremely rare," said Cheng Yuan of the Nanjing-based anti-discrimination NGO Tianxiagong. "This will encourage more people who are infected with AIDS and are discriminated against to seek protection under the law."

The man had passed a written test and interview for the job last June; he took the local education bureau to court when they denied him the position in November. They reached an agreement on 27 December.

About 780,000 people in China are infected with HIV or Aids, according to Xinhua, and many face extreme discrimination in the country's schools, courts, and offices. They are frequently refused treatment at Chinese hospitals. It is almost impossible for them to obtain government jobs.

In a widely reported case last year, a 25-year-old HIV-infected man in Tianjin was denied lung cancer treatments by two public hospitals because of his illness, forcing him to falsify his medical background to obtain treatment from a third. The man gained widespread public support on a popular Chinese microblog, spurring the country's ministry of health to formally ban hospitals from turning down HIV/Aids-infected patients.

China is home to almost 1,000 NGOs that focus on HIV/Aids-related issues, according to state media. Yet most face the same hurdles as the country's other civil society groups – the government, intent on maintaining an absolute grip on power, makes registration processes torturous and opaque, forcing many groups to register abroad or disband entirely.

Incoming premier Li Keqiang expressed strong support for Aids NGOs in a meeting with 12 civil society groups in November and shook hands with Aids patients in a televised broadcast. "Civil societies play an indispensable role in the national battle against HIV/Aids," he said, according to the state-run China Daily.

Yet critics blame Li for covering up the largest Aids epidemic in the country's history while he was the governor of central Henan province during the late 1990s. Up to 300,000 people were infected with HIV after selling their blood to state-sponsored blood donation agencies, which adhered to poor sanitary standards. The government has never formally acknowledged the catastrophe.

Experts say that discriminatory hiring practices based on pre-employment health checks will likely remain a problem in China, especially for companies in highly-coveted sectors that can afford to be picky about who they hire.

The health checks are "a kind of legacy from the time when there was a significant imbalance between supply of labour and demand for labour," said Geoff Crothall, communications director at the Hong-Kong based China Labour Bulletin. "The checks that they insisted workers go through were based on a lot of fear and misunderstanding about the effects of having somebody with a quote-unquote contagious disease in the workforce."

Some checks have sparked controversy in recent months. In late November, female college students protested against an invasive gynecological examination that has been required for civil service job applicants since 2005. Hundreds of Hepatitis B patients demonstrated in the south-western city Chengdu last summer for increased professional and social rights.

When the Beijing-based public health NGO Yirenping Centre surveyed 180 major state-owned enterprises in 2011, over 60% said they screened prospective employees for Hepatitis B and 35% said that they would not employ infected applicants.

The disease is only transferable via direct contact with infected blood, unprotected sex, and from mother to infant during childbirth.

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