Call for an HIV employment law gains support

30 October 2006
Call for an HIV employment law gains support

GABORONE – A large coalition of organisations and individuals have launched a campaign urging the Botswana Government and policymakers to put in place a law to protect HIV-related rights in the workplace.

Because such a law does not currently exist in Botswana, there is no binding protection for workers who have, for example, been dismissed because of their HIV-positive status or have been forced to undergo an HIV test before they can be considered for a job.

These and other violations of HIV-related rights at the workplace have long been concerns for the Botswana Network on Ethics, Law and HIV/AIDS (BONELA) and the Botswana Federation of Trade Unions (BFTU)—two organisations spearheading the coalition, which lists trade unions, civil society organisations and support groups of people living with HIV/AIDS among its growing number of members.

In a landmark 2003 case involving the firing of an HIV-positive employee by the Botswana Building Society, a judge ruled that while the National Policy on HIV/AIDS had strong persuasive moral authority in the court, it was not a binding law that could be applied to protect workers’ rights.  In the judge’s opinion it is Parliament’s responsibility to turn this policy into law.

Since 2002, BONELA and BFTU along with other concerned organisations have been working to have such a law created and passed.  However, the Government’s delay in enacting a law has prompted the coalition to adopt a new approach through the campaign, which boasts the slogan, “HIV EMPLOYMENT LAW. NOW!”

Botswana has waited long enough, says BFTU acting president  Patrick Chengeta. “Now we should move. The courts have announced that without a policy workers are vulnerable. The Government has a social responsibility.”

As part of the campaign, the coalition is distributing a petition nationally and internationally, collecting signatures both on paper and—believed to be the first time in Botswana—online at BONELA’s website ( Momentum for the campaign has grown rapidly with over 1000 individuals signing their support within the first three weeks of its launch. The collected petitions will eventually be presented to Parliament and the Botswana Government to urge action on enacting the law.

A peaceful demonstration march will also begin at 7 a.m. on 11 November in Gaborone when supporters will rally the cause from outside the National Stadium to Main Mall.

“The fight against HIV/AIDS cannot be won without a commitment to human rights, including the right to work,” says BONELA Director Christine Stegling. “It is crucial that citizens and residents of this country demand their rights and show support for this bill by signing the petition, participating in the march and talking to their MPs.”

BONELA is a Gaborone-based non-governmental organisation working on the ethical, legal and human rights dimensions of the HIV/AIDS pandemic in Botswana.  BONELA is involved in research, training, advocacy, legal assistance and public education.

The Botswana Federation of Trade Unions (BFTU) is the national trade union federation for Botswana. Founded in 1977, it represents the vast majority of all trade unions in the country.

For further information or requests for media interviews for the HIV Employment Law Campaign, please contact Cynthia Lee, BONELA Media and Advocacy Officer, at 393-2516.