‘Curbing discrimination against HIV-positive workers a step in the right direction’

Asean deputy secretary-general for the Asean Socio-Cultural Community Kung Phoak.

KUALA LUMPUR: An Asean official has hailed initiatives to overcome workplace discrimination against employees with HIV/AIDS, saying they mark a shift in strategies to address the problem.

Asean deputy secretary-general for the Asean Socio-Cultural Community Kung Phoak said in the past, efforts to tackle discrimination against such people were mainly at the social level and focused on providing a support network for them.

“But now we are talking about how workers who are affected can do their jobs, how to ensure job-building, and how to provide them with opportunities to advance in their careers,” he told FMT.

He added that the Asean region had seen a lot of progress in ensuring the fair treatment of workers with HIV/AIDS.

He also noted a decrease in the number of HIV cases in Southeast Asia.

He said workplace guidelines for safe practices and the prevention of HIV/AIDS along with policies to tackle discrimination against those with the disease were introduced two years ago and agreed to by all 10 Asean member states.

Since then, a number of companies in the region have adopted the guidelines and made efforts to initiate programmes to help those with HIV/AIDS.

“We are talking about making the guidelines mandatory, but we have to study the matter first. We cannot act in haste,” he said, adding that a proper cost-benefit analysis must be done.

Malaysian AIDS Council president Bakhtiar Talhah meanwhile told FMT that the intention of the human resources ministry to look into implementing anti-discrimination regulations for workers with HIV/AIDS was a step in the right direction.

He added that it was encouraging to see companies like Petronas stepping up to welcome HIV-positive employees.

“They even pay for your treatment if needed. But there’s still a long way to go. Not many private companies are doing this yet,” he said.

He said the council had received many complaints from people who lost their jobs due to their HIV status.

Even so, he added, not all cases of employer discrimination would be reported.

“There are 100,000 identified cases of HIV in Malaysia. Most of them are working, and many stay silent and hidden so their employers and colleagues don’t know.

“They live in fear that if their employees or colleagues find out, they might lose their jobs.”

Some companies also carry out pre-employment HIV screening despite the fact that this is not a mandatory practice, he said.

“We even have cases of students being denied scholarships or places in university because they are HIV-positive.”

Bakhtiar added that most new cases of HIV appeared to affect people between 18 and 30 years old.

“These are people who are productive, young and full of energy. Why should we deny them employment just because they are HIV-positive?”