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Government Senator, Professor Trevor Munroe has suggested that discrimination against persons with disabilities or health reasons should be made unconstitutional.
Speaking in the Senate on January 26, Senator Munroe said this would provide a legal foundation for other statutes, including the proposed legislation dealing with occupational health and safety or the Labour Relations and Industrial Disputes Act.
“I agree that some modification in our legal framework, perhaps in the occupational health and safety law which is being developed or otherwise needs to be made, in order to ensure that discrimination does not take place on grounds of health at the workplace,” said Senator Munroe.
Professor Munroe’s suggestion came during a debate on a motion put forward by Opposition Senator, Dwight Nelson, which called on the Government to amend the Labour Relations and Industrial Act to make the practice of screening persons for HIV/AIDS, as a pre requisite for employment, illegal.
State Minister in the Ministry of Labour and Social Security, Senator Floyd Morris said he commended Senator Nelson for moving such a motion in the Senate.
“I want to commend the mover of this motion for bringing what is a serious issue, when it comes to the workers within the Jamaican society. We cannot facilitate the discrimination against any of our citizens, especially in the context of a particular disease,” informed the State Minister.
Senator Nelson pointed out that the Jamaica Employers Federation and the trade union movement had signed a Memorandum of Understanding declaring that people diagnosed with HIV/AIDS are entitled to the same rights, benefits and opportunities as people with serious or life threatening illnesses. He also added that the memorandum also states that, “management should not require HIV screening as part of the pre-employment or general workplace physical examinations”.
“Employment discrimination is the worse form of social and workplace discrimination. Broad based mandatory testing of prospective employees for HIV/AIDS threatens fundamental principles and rights at work and undermine efforts for prevention and care,” said Senator Nelson.
However, he noted that there might be occupational situations where medical testing for employment is preferred, such as situations where “body fluids can contaminate whatever is produced”.