The Botswana Network on Ethics, Law and HIV/AIDS (BONELA) applauds the Government of Botswana for amending the Employment Act which previously permitted sexual orientation and health status as a basis for dismissal form one’s employ. This is a progressive move on the part of government, which is likely to uproot stigma and discrimination within the workplace on the basis of one’s sexual orientation or health status such as HIV.
This move by the Government of Botswana shows that our leaders are determined to fight institutional discrimination targeted towards sexual minorities and will go a long way in eventually eliminating discrimination of this ‘at risk population’ within society and other service oriented institutions. Tolerance and acceptance of sexual minorities will ensure universal access to prevention, treatment, care and support, crucial for Botswana to achieve its Vision 2016 goal of zero new HIV infections by 2016.
BONELA is also excited that Section 23 (a) of the new Employment Act removes health status as a basis for dismissal from employment. BONELA has evidence that some employers were previously using HIV status as grounds for dismissal from employment, however, the Act will now curb this worrisome trend which only serves to prevent employees from voluntary testing; knowing their status and pursuing a healthy lifestyle, for fear of losing their jobs.
“As an organization, we are motivated by this move by government. Since the inception of the organization we have tirelessly worked to lobby government to include sexual minorities in policy and legal frameworks to ensure a holistic HIV and AIDS intervention, so BONELA’s advocacy efforts have been rewarded. In addition, the removal of health as a basis for dismissal is a giant leap for BONELA as a human rights organization as it is our opinion that discrimination on the basis of one’s HIV status in particular is retrogressive for any country that seeks to effectively respond to the HIV/AIDS pandemic. Once again Botswana has proved that it is a trend setter in Africa, and we hope to see more of this kind of leadership,” said Felistus Motimedi, BONELA’s Coordinator of the Prevention and Research Initiative for Sexual Minorities.
In addition, BONELA’s Legal officer, Dikeledi Dingake, said: “It is the hope of BONELA, however, that the Government of Botswana will go a step further and enact a specific HIV Employment Act. The HIV/AIDS Employment Law, as envisaged by BONELA should pay attention to matters of reasonable accommodation for those who are HIV positive, ensuring they have a safe and supportive environment to access treatment, care and support. A reasonable accommodation could be a modification or adjustment to work duties, schedule, or environment, or to the initial application process, that would enable the employee to perform the essential job duties without imposing an undue hardship on the operation of the business.”
As a human rights organization, BONELA contends that while the amendment to the Employment Act included crucial provisions that are prohibitive to employers terminating the employee’s contract on the basis of sexual orientation, health, status or disability, it falls short on providing a protective environment specifically for people living with HIV/AIDS in the work place. The absence of a law in the private sector prohibiting employers from testing potential employees also gives them a lee-way to test people before hiring and subsequently disqualify them on the basis of their HIV/AIDS, despite the fitness and capacity of the job seeker. This practice is not only discriminatory, but puts productive people who may contribute meaningfully to the country’s development at an arm’s length.
BONELA therefore calls on the government to swiftly enact a law that specifically HIV/AIDS in the workplace, if the rights and dignity of people living with HIV/AIDS are to be realized.