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    Food Inspector’s HIV Discrimination Case Heard in Guangzhou

    Employer argues that man’s condition makes him a health and safety liability.

    The labor arbitration case of an HIV-positive man suing his employer over alleged discrimination took place Sunday in Guangzhou, capital of China’s southern Guangdong province.

    The 27-year-old complainant, known only by the nickname Ming, is employed by a Guangzhou-based food inspection organization, which is partly state-owned. He was asked to take an indefinite leave last December after he failed to pass a physical test for the civil servant recruitment examination two months prior. His request for labor arbitration on April 28 was accepted by the Guangzhou Labor Personnel Dispute Arbitration Court the same day.

    In a telephone interview with Sixth Tone following Sunday’s arbitration, Ming’s lawyer Qiu Hengyu said that his client’s employer argued during the arbitration that no person with a disease that may endanger food safety may engage in any operation that requires contact with food for direct consumption. Citing China’s Food Safety Law, they argued that this meant it was unsafe for Ming to continue to work as a food inspector.

    “When I asked Ming’s employer to provide specific cases of the food inspection work Ming would be unfit to carry out, they failed to give an answer,” Qiu said.

    Calls to the court on Sunday by Sixth Tone went unanswered. 

    Despite Ming’s belief that he is professionally and physically qualified for his position, he said that he is unsure whether the arbitration case will rule in his favor. “The existing laws and measures are contradictory, which makes the case complicated,” he told Sixth Tone by telephone following the trial.

    Ming’s employer justified its decision by pointing to the implementation measures for the country’s Law on Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases, adopted in 1991, which state that AIDS patients and HIV carriers need to be treated in isolation.

    Although a revision to the law in 2004 stated that AIDS patients or HIV carriers no longer need to be isolated, the associated implementation measures — the foundation of the employer’s case — were never updated.

    Qiu told Sixth Tone his counter-argument centered upon the fact that, according to China’s Regulation on the Prevention and Treatment of HIV/AIDS adopted in 2006, no entity or individual may discriminate against people infected with HIV/AIDS. Similarly, the 2008 Employment Promotion Law states that an employer shall not refuse to recruit any person because they have an infectious disease.

    In a further attempt to show that the plight of China’s HIV/AIDS patients has the support of the country’s highest powers, Qiu also submitted to the court an HIV/AIDS video combatting prejudice that featured China’s first lady, Peng Liyuan. The video was released by the National Health and Family Planning Commission in August 2013 in order to raise public awareness about HIV/AIDS.

    Ming said that time he has spent engaging with a number of HIV carriers and AIDS patients around Guangzhou has shown him that labor discrimination against such people is commonplace. Some of those living with HIV and AIDS have no choice but to work from home managing an online shop, he said, while others are forced to survive on government benefits because they can’t find work. “I’m worried that will happen to me if I don’t fight now,” he said.

    Ming takes courage from the number of people like him who are fighting such discrimination. According to him, over 10,000 HIV carriers and AIDS patients receive free medication from the Eighth People’s Hospital of Guangzhou, which specializes in infectious diseases. “The group of HIV/AIDS patients is big enough to cause social unrest if our rights can’t be protected,” he said.

    Whether he will able to return to his job or not, Ming told Sixth Tone that he will continue with his task to increase awareness of those in Guangzhou living with the disease. “I hope I can get support from the public and encourage more HIV/AIDS patients to fight for their rights,” he said, adding that he intends to do so through social media and with the collaboration of LGBT advocacy groups.

    Following Sunday’s arbitration, Ming’s lawyer Qiu said he remains confident about the outcome, which is expected to be announced within 60 days.

    (Header image: Wavebreak Media/VCG)