HIV and AIDS

AIDS-based discrimination still rife

The case of Gary Allpass, which is currently being heard in the Labour Court in Johannesburg, is an unfortunate reminder of the discrimination that people living with HIV and AIDS still suffer in the workplace.

Gary Allpass finally had his day in court on Monday this week. The Labour Court in Johannesburg is hearing Allpass’€™s application against Mooikloof Equestrian Centre in Pretoria, after the company dismissed him from his position as a stable manager in 2008. He was fired just two weeks after he had started working at the centre. This was after he had filled out a personal information form in which he had to disclose information about his health to his employers. Among others, Allpass revealed that he had HIV. Shortly after he sent back the form his boss, Dawie Malan, dismissed him.

‘€œI disclosed the fact that I had had asthma, and that I had DVT and I had HIV. He told me that I had lied in my job interview and that I’€™ve been dismissed because I was severely ill because I had HIV. He blatantly said that I’€™ve been I was dismissed because of my HIV infection’€, Allpass says.

When he dismissed Allpass, Malan said he had lied because when asked about his health in the job interview, he had said that he was in good health and didn’€™t mention that he has HIV. But Allpass did not have to disclose his HIV status, according to Section 27, which has taken up his case.

‘€œI don’€™t think to have HIV means that you are not in good health. Judge Edwin Cameron from the Constitutional Court can ride the 94.7 Cycle Marathon ‘€“ the 100 kms – in four hours. He has HIV. Does HIV mean he should say: ‘€˜I’€™m unhealthy’€™, that ‘€˜I’€™m ill?’€™ You’€™re not ill. You’€™re ill when you have pneumonia. You’€™re ill when you have Tuberculosis. You’€™re ill when you have an incapacitating disease. We know more about this virus, HIV, than almost any other virus in the history of medicine. We also know that is a treatable and an entirely manageable virus. That is why we don’€™t have in our law a requirement that if I have HIV, I disclose my HIV status to the employer at the point of employment. That is not required and it is not necessary’€, says Section 27 Director, Mark Heywood.

Allpass has been living with HIV since 1992, which means that he had been carrying the virus for 16 years when he started working at the Mooikloof Equestrian Centre in 2008. At the time of his employment he was on AIDS treatment, had a healthy CD 4 count and a suppressed viral load. He was not incapacitated.                          

‘€œI don’€™t believe that HIV incapacitates somebody from being a stable manager. In our country we’€™ve had a case in the highest court in the land ‘€“ in the Constitutional Court ‘€“ where it was claimed at one point that having HIV meant that you couldn’€™t be a cabin attendant on an aeroplane. So-called scientific evidence was brought forward to try to support that claim, and it was found to be insupportable. We had a case a few years ago where at issue was whether people with HIV could be soldiers. And again, very clever (in inverted commas) evidence was brought forward to say this is the most difficult job, and once again it was found to be unsupportable because what we’€™re talking about, with HIV, is a virus. We’€™re talking about a virus that is today a manageable virus. You should judge people in employment by their capacity to perform the inherent requirements of the particular job’€, Heywood says.                

He expressed regret that Allpass and people living with HIV in general are still being subjected to discrimination in the workplace.

As the case enters its third day today, Allpass has one desire.    

‘€œI look forward to a fair trial and a thorough ventilation of the issues that affect me and other survivors of HIV in general’€, he says.    

Mooikloof Equestrian Centre was not available for comment.

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Khopotso Bodibe