BEIJING - Xiao Jun, 27, stepped onto the platform, face covered by a mask, dark-colored glasses and a cap, asking everyone in the meeting hall one question: "Can a person with HIV be a teacher?"
Xiao Jun (a pseudonym) was recently refused a teaching job because of his HIV status. He was invited on Tuesday to a forum held by the International Labor Organization (ILO), UNAIDS and Marie Stopes International in Beijing for championing his own rights by using legal measures.
He filed China's second case involving employment discrimination against people living with HIV (PLWHIV) in October this year, though he failed to win during the first trial.
As employment discrimination against PLWHIV has already come into the spotlight in China, now there are some people standing up to champion their own rights to jobs, officials note.
The Tuesday ILO conference released a report, "HIV and AIDS Related Employment Discrimination in China," co-authored by ILO and the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention (China CDC), which notes that PLWHIV in China are faced with employment discrimination, such as mandatory testing, denial of job opportunities, forced resignations, and downgrading of job responsibilities.
The report also notes that, PLWHIV in China are prohibited from working in the civil service and in hotels, cafes, bars, beauty salons and hairdressers.
The defendant in Xiao Jun's case, the education bureau of Anqing city, denied Xiao Jun the job, saying that, "Teaching is a special job, and qualification criteria for teachers are very high."
Xiao Jun said, "Nobody can live without work. Denying us this right is even worse than suffering from HIV."
Further, Yu Fangqiang, Xiao Jun's defense lawyer, said, "Chinese tend to give moral judgment to people with HIV. They sympathize with those contracting HIV due to blood transfusion, but despise those who picked it up through sex, deeming them as morally corrupted, so how could a morally corrupted person be a teacher?"
Yu said, however, "Everyone is entitled to equal rights which are endowed by law, and the public should be aware of that." Now, their case has been filed with the intermediate court of Anqing.
The Anqing Education Bureau, in its recruitment of teachers, applied the health criteria for employing civil servants, which provides that people with HIV are disqualified from being civil servants.
The health examination criteria for civil servants has become the center of blame by rights advocates, as it is frequently adopted by other employers, for instance, by schools, public institutions and many state-owned enterprises.
The joint ILO and China CDC report suggests revising the health check criteria for hiring civil servants and policemen because it sets an example for other employers.
The report also suggests revoking mandatory testing as a pre-condition for employment and keeping health check results confidential. "If only the patient himself is informed of his health status, not his managers, then the PLWHIV will not loose jobs."
According to a survey on public attitudes towards employment of people living with HIV conducted in 2007, 48.8 percent of the 1,000 respondents argue that people with HIV should be deprived of equal employment.
Business managers show even stronger opposition to employing PLWHIV. Among 200 managers being surveyed, 130 (65 percent) believe PLWHIV should not enjoy equal employment opportunities.
Michael Shiu, Vice President of the Global Business Coalition on HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, said, in a program his organization carried out, employers told him even though they would hire HIV positive staff, they couldn't do so because other employees might be terrified, which would jeopardize harmony in the work place.
Tang Hao, a newspaper editor, said, "If I have a colleague who's PLWHIV, I will quit my job, even if I know the virus cannot be contracted through daily contacts, because I feel insecure as long as there is a 1 percent chance of infection."
The decade-long endeavor to remove employment discrimination against people suffering from Hepatitis B may offer PLWHIV a ray of hope. With years of advocacy, HBV carriers have been able to be civil servants since 2005, and China prohibits mandatory health checks towards HBV since 2010.
Lei Chuang, a volunteer in Tuesday's ILO event, also a HBV carrier, said, "As Hepatitis B patients are now allowed to work even as cooks, I am confident one day PLWHIV could enjoy the same rights."
There are currently an estimated 700,000 people living with HIV in China, including about 75,000 AIDS patients.
The ILO and China CDC report also recognize that progress has been made to reduce employment discrimination in China.
For example, China began implementing a regulation on HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment in 2006. The Law on the Promotion of Employment, which took effect in 2008, stipulates that employers cannot deny jobs to carriers of infectious diseases.
Mark Sterling, UNAIDS country coordinator in China, said as protecting the rights of PLWHIV has been written into China's next five year plan, it would provide wonderful opportunities to ensure follow-up actions to ensure the rights of PLWHIV.