China jobs
Get more with myNEWS
A personalised news feed of stories that matter to you
Learn more
Premier Li Keqiang said the government “must continue to put employment front and centre”. Photo: Xinhua

Chinese premier says discrimination against job applicants who have had Covid will be punished

  • Li Keqiang calls for equal rights for all during cabinet meeting, and says the government must do everything possible to stabilise employment
  • It comes after reports alleging that some employers were ruling out workers who had been previously infected with the virus
China jobs
Chinese Premier Li Keqiang has vowed to punish those who discriminate against people who have had Covid-19, after reports that applicants were being overlooked for jobs because they had been infected.

Speaking at a regular meeting of China’s cabinet, the State Council, on Wednesday, Li called for equal employment rights for all and said discriminating against people who have had the coronavirus was prohibited and that anyone who did so would be punished.

He said pressure on the labour market remained significant. “The government must continue to put employment front and centre, and do everything possible to stabilise [the situation] and increase jobs,” Li was quoted as saying by the official Xinhua news agency.

While much of the world is living with the virus, China has maintained a strict zero-Covid policy, trying to stamp out any cases with tough controls and mass testing when outbreaks occur – at the cost of the economy.

Widespread coronavirus restrictions and lockdowns in big Chinese cities have had a major impact on the country’s economic activity in recent months, especially the service industry, leaving many people out of work or with not enough employment.

China’s surveyed unemployment rate in urban areas was 5.9 per cent in May, up from 5.1 per cent in December, according to the National Bureau of Statistics.

Chinese city’s health system buckles under Covid debt strain

Li’s remarks come after media reports and online posts emerged this month alleging that some employers were ruling out job applicants who had been infected with the virus.

In one case posted on social media platform WeChat, a woman said she had been sleeping rough at the Hongqiao Railway Station in Shanghai for months as she had been unable to find a job. She said she had gone to the city looking for work but was turned down by employment agencies and employers because she had been infected with Covid-19.

The post was widely circulated online before it was taken down, and prompted public outrage and debate over the stigma associated with having Covid-19 in China.

One woman says she has been sleeping rough at the Hongqiao Railway Station in Shanghai after missing out on jobs because she previously had Covid-19. Photo:

Many others have posted on social media about their own experiences, saying they were concerned about letting people know they had previously had the virus for fear of discrimination.

“Getting Covid-19 is no different from getting a cold, but the treatment if you’ve had it is totally different,” said Rocky Sheng in Shanghai, who recovered from the virus earlier this year.

“Neighbours won’t say a word … but when you share a lift with them you can see the fear [that you are still contagious] in their eyes.”

It is not just employment. In the southern province of Guangdong, a theatre on Monday had to apologise and reverse its entry ban on people who had recovered from Covid-19 after it came under fire online.

Medical workers say they have also faced discrimination. One doctor at the Ruijin Hospital, Shanghai Jiao Tong University School of Medicine, said it was common for medical staff to keep silent about working at a facility treating Covid-19 patients to avoid trouble.

“You can feel the fear from people around you once they know where you’ve been working, even though it’s just part of your job,” said the doctor, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

“It’s almost an unspoken rule now that we stay silent about this.”