Law will end hepatitis bias, authorities say

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 14 July, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 14 July, 2007, 12:00am

Health and labour authorities have vowed to use tough legislation to eliminate workplace discrimination against the country's 120 million carriers of the hepatitis B virus.

In an online forum at the government's internet portal, Liu Danhua - deputy head of training and employment at the Ministry of Labour and Social Security - said the new law would provide a legal basis to safeguard the rights of HBV carriers.

The law is presently under review.

'The draft of the law has attracted more than 10,000 opinions from ordinary citizens, and the call to address workplace discrimination is very high,' Mr Liu said. 'The law is going to open a new chapter of fairness in the workplace.'

He said the draft included an article stating that employers should not decline employment based on whether the job seeker was a carrier of an infectious virus.

The mainland's constitution stipulates that all citizens enjoy the right to work, but due to rudimentary legislation workers testing positive for HBV are often denied jobs or have their contracts terminated.

The Labour Contract Law passed last month will come into force next year and provides the legal basis for carriers who lose their job because of the virus to sue employers. But it does not give the same support to applicants who are denied a job because they carry the virus.

The ministries of health, labour and social security issued a guideline last month banning employers from imposing compulsory HBV tests on job applicants unless required to do so by regulations.

It also asked medical institutions to remove HBV tests from physical check-ups for job applicants.

Until the law promoting employment is endorsed and enforced, HBV-positive job applicants can seek help only from labour authorities, who in turn can only ask employers to change their policy. Employers cannot be punished based solely on the guideline, Mr Liu said.

The guideline had failed to improve the situation, HBV carriers said. Contributors to the online forum complained that employers were still asking hospitals to include the test in check-ups, going against the spirit of the guideline. There were also complaints that labour authorities in some areas denied knowing about the guideline.

'We have spent several days verifying that all the provincial-level authorities received the guideline, and most of them have distributed it. But we need some time to apply the guideline,' Mr Liu said.

Hao Yang , deputy director of the Ministry of Health's disease prevention and control section, who took part in the forum, said the ministry would monitor the implementation of the guideline and expand a disease-awareness campaign.

Lu Jun - from Yirenping, a group fighting discrimination against HBV carriers - said the law would improve the well-being of those who had the virus and lead to further improvements.