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MANILA, Philippines - Some workers applying for jobs at call center companies are being asked to reveal if they have the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) – a clear violation of the AIDS law that prohibits discrimination against people living with the virus.
This was one of the issues discussed Friday at the National Dialogue on HIV and Human Rights organized by the United Nations Development Programme, and which focused on the forms of discrimination experienced by people living with HIV (PLHIV).
Edu Razon, president of Pinoy Plus, said some business process outsourcing companies have started asking applicants if they have HIV and requiring them to get tested. "If you're a PLHIV and you're applying for a job in the BPO, you're reluctant to apply because of that,” he said.
UNDP officials at the forum advised the support groups working with PLHIVs to document such instances of discrimination in order to make a case against violators.
The concern about HIV cases in the burgeoning BPO sector is not surprising, given recent pronouncements by government agencies pointing to the galloping increase in HIV/AIDS cases in the country.
The National AIDS Registry shows that from one new HIV case detected every three days in 2006, this has risen to 10 cases per day in the first quarter of 2012.
Law bars mandatory testing
Republic Act 8504 or the country’s AIDS law does not prescribe mandatory HIV testing for employment and prohibits discrimination in the workplace on account of having the virus.
The BPO sector employs about 640,000 workers and has so far contributed $11 billion to the economy. It is expected to grow to a $25-billion dollar industry and employ a total of 1.3 million workers.
Document cases – UNDP
Teresita Marie Bagasao, country coordinator of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) said, there is a need to document these cases because they provide a clear picture of the different facets of discrimination experienced by those living with the virus.
"It's very difficult to support an action if you don't have evidence. You have to establish that such discrimination really exists," said Bagasao.
Razon, however, noted that some BPO applicants are afraid to file a complaint because that would mean they have to disclose their HIV status. Participants to the dialogue, among them from the Commission on Human Rights, said PLHIV are faced with a dilemma between accessing services for redress and “coming out” publicly.
Jonas Bagas, executive director of TLF-Share, a non-government organization whose work is focused on the gay community, said most men having sex with men (MSM) do not submit themselves for HIV testing because of discrimination.
He cited a 2011 study of the National Epidemiology Center of the health department which showed that while the rate of MSM submitting themselves for testing has increased to 15 percent, only five percent of them come back for the results.
"They stop accessing results because of fear of being disclosed. They don’t want to know (if they’re infected)," he added.
Bagas said MSM are also afraid to go for testing because of the wrong perception that HIV is a "gay disease."
According to the UNAIDS, the transmission trend of HIV in the country has shifted from heterosexual to male-to-male sex, with five out of six Filipinos being infected with the virus in the country in 2011 coming from the MSM sector.