Monday, July 16, 2007

Hepatitis B Carriers: Will Chinese Law Protect Your Job & Dignity?

Hepatitis B is the nemesis of more than 100 million people in China. Having this disease often means you face blatant discrimination in your job, career, and education. Due to the large number of people affected by the disease and the “disgrace” associated with it, more and more people have begun to speak out against discrimination of Hepatitis B carriers in China. Thus, on May 18, 2007, the Ministry of Labor & Social Security and the Ministry of Public Health jointly issued an administrative document. Bearing the title, Opinions on the Employment Rights of Hepatitis B Carriers, this document represents the first step taken by the Chinese government in protecting the rights of more than 100 million of its own people. (Applaud!)

This opinion provides that:

Employer shall not refuse to employ or cease to employ a worker for being Hepatitis B positive except for fields of employment as provided in the laws, administrative regulations, and mandates issues by the Ministry of Public Health.


It also gives the employees a right to privacy and employers even though it recognizes that employers have the right to conduct physical exams.

Overall, this opinion is a feeble measure in light of the magnitude of the problem. For those 100 million plus Chinese folks, it is not just the torture of the disease itself that wears them down; what is worse is the stigma associated with Hepatitis. And the worse of all, their livelihood is in jeopardy just because they have the disease. Stronger and more comprehensive legislation must be introduced to protect the rights of more about 1/10 of the Chinese population.

Currently, a new law, Employment Enhancement Act (Draft) (《就业促进法》(草案))(Chinese only), which is under debate and consideration in the National People’s Congress, does contain prospective measures aimed at employment discrimination in Article Five:

Employees shall not be discriminated on the basis of nationality, race, sex, religion, age, and physical disability.


Prominently missing from protection under this proposed law is discrimination of people with Hepatitis B.

These 100 million strong people deserve equal treatment, a right to employment, a right to a decent livelihood, and most importantly social dignity which often flows from employment, education, and a decent livelihood.

Besides ending with a plea for protection for these folks, I also want to recount one of my personal encounters with a Hepatitis B carrier. It is one that I shall never forget.

She [to protect her identity, I will not reveal her identity] was my best friend’s girlfriend. Young, pretty, diligent, and smart. After years of study, and after passing the grueling Chinese college entrance exams, she made it into her dream college in the wondrous city of Wuhan, Hubei Province.

One day, I got an emergency phone call from my best friend, who was in a state of shock and panic. He pleaded for help for her girl friend, who just arrived in Wuhan for official enrollment. When she got to Wuhan, the school notified her that she had to go through a physical exam. That notice was like lightening out of the blue, or in Chinese, a bucket of cold water over her head that chilled her burning desires to embark on a path to a bright future for a country girl. The notice had put her hopes, dreams, and the possibility of a decent life in jeopardy because she is a Hepatitis B carrier. If the physical revealed her little secret, her acceptance to the college would be revoked.

In China, when your best friend calls for help, you do whatever you can to help. As simple as that. I had to find a solution for my best friend’s girlfriend. [Before I proceed further, I plead 5th Amendment protection. ] Someone came up with the brilliant idea of finding someone that looks like my best friend’s girlfriend, and let the look-alike go for the Hepatitis B part of the physical…

Yes, you guessed it. A replacement was found and my best friend’s girlfriend kept her little secret and a chance to a better future.

Years have passed since the date of that physical exam. I have always struggled with that incident. Something seemed wrong and out of place. She should not have to hide a medical condition probably caused by an incompetent doctor or nurse. She should not be robbed of a chance to a better life if she had not committed fraud.

So, will the Chinese law protect people like her in their employment and safeguard their sense of dignity?

It should. But I don’t know.

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