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HIV tests for new workers infringe on their rights

Forcing prospective employees to undergo blood tests risks worsening social stigma and economic hardship for those with the disease

One would think that after decades of being on the front line in the fight against HIV/Aids, Thai society would be more sensitive to the issue.

But this hasn't been the case, as the recent complaints filed with the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) suggest.

The NHRC has come out and condemned businesses that require job applicants to be tested for HIV on the ground that it is a "clear violation of human rights".

The NHRC said requiring people to take a blood test could adversely affect people economically and socially and also impact on their families.

The commission said a growing number of potential employees had been filing complaints about this requirement.

This is not to say that society and the authorities should just disregard the issue of HIV/Aids entirely. There are more sensible ways to go about it, like education and raising awareness about how the virus is transmitted.

Thai society, in spite of decades of dealing with the issue and receiving praise from the world community for curbing the dramatic growth of the epidemic in the 1990s, continues to discriminate against people who are HIV-positive.

As long as someone performs their work properly, HIV positive or not, they should be permitted to do so.

A blood test could also become an unnecessary financial burden on job applicants. But let's be realistic, we are not talking about the financial cost of just one test. We are talking about a lifelong stigma and discrimination against an individual who is HIV-positive but poses minimal or no danger to co-workers.

Sadly, despite the overwhelming research on HIV/Aids over the past few decades, misunderstanding and inaccurate myths continue to persist. These myths, driven by an unfound fear of HIV transmission and HIV-positive individuals, are at the heart of workplace discrimination, or in this case, potential workplace.

It has been proven that only certain body fluids can transmit HIV: blood, semen and pre-seminal fluid, vaginal secretions, and breast milk.

Most people who are HIV-positive live normal and healthy lives. But because of the stigma and discrimination that could threaten their economic livelihood, many chose to keep quiet about the disease.

In Thailand, the group of people most vulnerable to HIV are of working age. It was on the back of such people that Thailand became a newly industrialised country and their cheap labour helped advance the country's global economic standing. That's why it is of utmost importance to be sensitive to the issue and have a sensible policy for HIV/Aids in the workplace. We cannot afford to fail them.

Our authorities and society must work to ensure that people with HIV are not denied the opportunity to participate in all aspects of society, be it employment, education and any form of social function. Stereotypes, prejudice and misinformation about HIV and Aids must make way for understanding and compassion.

The public and private sectors must not discriminate against colleagues or applicants living with HIV or Aids and they must treat the disease the same other illness are treated in terms of employee policies and benefits, including health and life insurance, disability benefits and leave of absence.

Colleagues who harass or discriminate against co-workers affected by HIV/Aids must face disciplinary action in line with the workplace's policy.


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