Swakopmund — Walvis Bay resident Kenneth Beukes* says he was fired by a well-known tourism company for disclosing his HIV status.
A very emotionally charged Beukes yesterday told New Era that HIV/Aids discrimination in the workplace, especially in the hospitality industry, is still rife despite Namibia making efforts to destigmatise HIV/Aids.
Narrating his ordeal to the newspaper, Beukes said that he responded on July 2, to an advert in a local newspaper as the reputable company was looking for kitchen and bar staff.
He says he was invited for a face-to-face interview the next day at the premises where he impressed his interviewers. He was placed on a week's probation instead of three months due to his excellent work ethics after a verbal work agreement, he said.
"No mention was made about health and safety issues during the interview. I reported for duty the next day prepared meals for them as well as clients," he said.
According to Beukes, his main task was to prepare food and he thus felt compelled to disclose his HIV status to his new employers, seeing that he was also not provided with safety gear like gloves to handle food with.
"I took my health passport along and explained to them that I am positive so that we could schedule my off days in a way that I don't disrupt work to collect my medication and do follow up visits," a distraught Beukes told New Era yesterday.
However, he says his honestly cost him his job on the spot, despite the fact that he is legally not obligated to disclose his status.
"I even pleaded to be allowed to work in the bar or as a cleaner so that I don't have to work with food," he said.
He added that disclosing his status was a personal choice he made as he did not want his employers to find out about it through a third party and that all parties know how to deal with his status.
"I did not expect to be discriminated at or belittled. Just as they have rights, I have rights too. However, some employers totally disregard the Labour Act and the human rights of individuals.
We had a verbal employment agreement that they failed to honour because I am HIV positive, although they applauded me for my work ethics," he said.
Beukes has since lodge a complaint with the Ministry of Labour as he felt that this not only affects him but thousand others that have lost jobs this way or are discriminated at by their employers.
Also commenting on the issue, unionist Angula Angula said that no person should be discriminated at based on his/her health status and in fact, he says companies should have wellness programmes as well as health and safety measures in place to protect both employer and employees.
According to the Namibian Labour Act, employers have a duty to take all steps to ensure the safety, health and welfare of employees at work. This includes having a safety plan, proper training in safety procedures and information on how to protect oneself from infection when there is a situation.
The Labour Act also requires employers to provide protective clothing and equipment.
The Act clearly states that an employer cannot force a person who is applying for work to have an HIV test nor should they refuse to employ a person as a result of HIV. It also states that it is unfair discrimination if an employer refuses to employ a person just because they are HIV positive.
An employee is also not legally required to tell the employer that he/she is HIV positive and the employee's medical condition is private.
The employer cannot force an employee to disclose his/her HIV status. If an employee decides to tell an employer about his/her HIV status, the employer has to keep this information confidential. The employer may only inform other people with the employee's written, informed consent.