By Frederick Philander WINDHOEK DISCRIMINATION against infected workers should be stopped as a matter of urgency if AIDS victims are to be treated fairly in the workplace. This was said on Tuesday by lawyer Delme Cupido of the Legal Assistance Centre when he addressed parliamentarians, business leaders and representatives of civil society at a two-day round table discussion on the impact of AIDS on Namibia’s socio-economic development. “Though workers are under no obligation to make their status known to employers, the voluntary declaration of an AIDS infected worker’s status to his employer should not be used as a penalizing factor for promotion or any other benefit such persons are as workers entitled to in the workplace. Employers can also not argue that they cannot financially invest in an HIV/AIDS worker that is about to die,” Delmi Cupido informed those present. In his opinion, HIV/AIDS infected workers should be protected at all costs because of their contribution towards the economic development of the country. “These people are in a very precarious situation. They become victims of employers because out of fear that their status would be exposed, they usually don’t go to court to resolve work related issues. Therefore, a code of conduct for all employers should be established to help protect the rights of such workers,” Cupido, who referred to a case in 1998 against the Namibia Defence Force in which an AIDS victim applied to become a member of the NDF, said. The court then ruled in favour of the applicant due to the fact that if such persons are able to work, they should not be discriminated against on the grounds of their HIVAIDS status. “Many HIV/AIDS infected persons live up to 12 years and there is physically and mentally nothing wrong with them,” Cupido said in defence of the rights of such persons in the work place. He challenged the MP’s by asking how many of them were aware of the Government’s Confidentiality Policy. “This policy is in place, but it is not that well known because it has not yet been transformed into practical terms. In fact, to my knowledge, this particular policy has not yet been printed yet, but it’s there. Parliamentarians must just inquire about it in order to prepare themselves better when debating HIV/AIDS in the workplace. We have many policies in place, which unfortunately do not transform into action,” Cupido charged. He urged parliamentarians to do more to explain these policies to the broader public. “Granted, HIV/AIDS tests are not the most trustworthy way of appointing people in jobs. It often happens that jobseekers test negative because at that particular time the virus has not yet developed, but later on companies realise they have a number of infected employees. However, a fear exists that HIV/AIDS can be driven underground if employers do not maintain and adhere to confidentiality,” he warned.
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