Xstrata plans to fire HIV-positive employees, says union

2011-02-23 14:16

Mining company Xstrata Coal SA is allegedly planning to dismiss 12 HIV-positive employees in the name of “internal policies” after it was forced to reinstate them, the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) claimed in a statement today.

The company first dismissed the employees in November last year which resulted in the union taking the matter to the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) where it won, said NUM regional secretary Paris Mashego.

The employees returned to work after the company was forced to take them back by order of a magistrate, he said.

“However, during a meeting between management and shop stewards last week, management indicated that it had reviewed the matter, but refused to give us a letter of the review and referred the shop stewards to the union’s lawyers.”

Mashego claimed this meant that the company intended to reinstate its dismissal of the employees.

He said the dismissals came after the union partnered with the company to encourage employees to test yearly in commemoration of World Aids Day on December 1 on condition that their results would be kept confidential.

“We believed both union and management did not have access to the results. We are surprised management got them and used them against employees,” he said.

“Whilst the government is doing all it can to advance the fight against HIV/Aids, some backward thinking companies such as Xstrata are dragging the campaign to test for the pandemic backward.

“We call upon the DMR [Department of Mineral Resources] to look into these kind of activities when awarding their licenses,” Mashego said.

The National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union (Nehawu) condemned the alleged dismissals of workers due to their HIV status, describing it as “ghastly and barbaric”.

“This discrimination against workers who are HIV positive is a huge blow to the government’s fight against Aids, because it sends a message to those who have the disease that they will lose their jobs if they come out,” said spokesperson Sizwe Pamla.

Xstrata spokesperson Gugulethu Maqetuka dismissed the NUM’s allegations as “baseless in the extreme”.

“We wish to emphatically confirm that at Xstrata Coal South Africa, we have one of the industry’s leading HIV and Aids programmes, one that has achieved global recognition and is one of the first true Public Private Partnerships in this arena,” he said.

The programme was managed by an independent specialist on a fully confidential basis and included voluntary testing and counselling.

Maqetuka said both employees and their families had access to antiretroviral treatment (ART) through the programme, which incorporated nine clinics, seven of which were ART approved, and some of which were not necessarily near the mining operations as well as mobile clinics and wellness advocates.

“The programme is premised on complete anonymity, based on our internal policies and the code of good practice on key aspects of HIV and Aids and employment. We do not have access to personal information on employees’ HIV status,” he said.

“The NUM should understand better than most, that in terms of South African legislation, an employee can only be dismissed for a serious offence through contravention of a recognised and accepted disciplinary policy, which would include internal and possibly even external hearings in the interest of protecting an employee’s rights,” Maqetuka said.

The allegation of the dismissal of HIV-positive employees comes after award-winning horse-riding instructor and stable manager Gary Allpass recently won a Labour Court case against his former employer, MooiKloof Equestrian Centre, in Pretoria, for unfair dismissal in 2008 after he disclosed that he had the disease.

Allpass was employed on basis of a contract renewable every three months.

His former employer was ordered to pay him a year’s salary and to cover the legal costs of the action. 

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