BONELA Demands Enactment of Law not Policy on HIV and the Workplace

2 December 2008:
BONELA Demands Enactment of Law not Policy on HIV and the Workplace

The Botswana Network on Ethics, Law and HIV/AIDS (BONELA) is disappointed by comments made in Parliament recently by the Minister of Labour and Home Affairs, Mr. Peter Siele, to the effect that his ministry is still in the process of consulting relevant stakeholders in pursuit of the formulation of a policy on HIV and the workplace. This is despite the fact that the Government of Botswana has been in the process of formulating an HIV Employment Policy since 2005, and this process has not yielded any fruit to date.

The esteemed Minister’s comments are misplaced as in our view, at this juncture, consultations are unnecessary as the issues of HIV and employment are common cause around the world. The trend is that policies where they exist, should be transformed into law and where they do not exist, governments legislate without going the policy route. Botswana already has a National Policy on HIV/AIDS which is adequate in addressing aspects that are currently problematic, such as pre-employment HIV testing, but the policy does not have the force of law. This undermines the need for yet another policy for which the Ministry of Labour and Home Affairs is seemingly endlessly advancing.

In addition, the Industrial Court and the Court of Appeal have unanimously and conclusively said that the current policy is not a binding document hence Botswana will not benefit from another policy should it finally come. Regionally, other countries are long past the stage of discussing policies with regards to employment and HIV/AIDS. Neighbouring Zimbabwe for example, has as far back as 1998 seen the need to put in place a law that serves to safeguard employees from discrimination in the workplace.

This regional trend and continuing abuses in the workplace prompted BONELA to hand a petition with over 13 000 signatures to the then Minister of Labour and Home Affairs Mr. Tibone on the 14th of September 2007 for the Government of Botswana to enact as a matter of urgency an HIV Employment Law. However, since then there is apparent lack of political will on the part of government to enact specific laws.

In response to Mr. Siele’s remarks, BONELA Acting Director, Mr. Uyapo Ndadi said: “The writing is on the wall that this law is required as a matter of urgency. BONELA continuously receives an alarming number of cases that can be cured by the required law. Any further delay amounts to subjecting people to the indignity of not being hired; losing their jobs; prejudice; stigma and discrimination based on their HIV status. I am discouraged by increasing reports of employees not having time off to attend to their medical requirements, which forces them to make a choice between leaving their treatment to keep their jobs, or losing their jobs in order to adhere to life prolonging treatment. The impending policy should it come in to effect, is to me as good as nothing as it will not alter anything.

“Batswana really need an HIV Employment Law and its necessity and urgency is far greater than that of the Media Practitioners’ Bill or the Security and Intelligence Act as its absence impacts adversely on people’s livelihoods.”