KAMPALA High Court, Uganda: It was a world fools’ day, April 1st 2017 and they momentarily thought their supervisor at China Communication Construction Company (CCCC), the contractors of Entebbe Express Highway, had elected to share with them light moments that always come with the day’s fun – fake surprises. How wrong they were! They had been fired. Reason? Their employer had reportedly discovered, they were HIV positive.
On this day, Annet Namuyomba Mukisa, an office attendant/cleaner and George William Kato, a company driver were on different intervals, summoned by the Bukasa Office Manager, Mr. Wang who, without any basic professional preparation, informed them that their medical check-up results and those of many others, showed they were HIV positive.
“I was still in shock of my new-found medical status when, he pushed a resignation letter for me to sign. I read it and felt so angry. I refused to sign it and, confused, bitter, with tears all over my face, I walked out on him,” Kato, whose life has since changed for worse, narrated to the investigator last night. Namuyomba’s story is no different.
“When he announced my HIV status to me, I bent my head, held it in my palms and fixed it in the middle of my knees. My heart stopped for a moment and I was profusely sweating. I was breathing heavily.” With tears, mixed with sweat uncontrollably streaming down her face to the floor, she let out a loud cry. “Woowe abaana bange,” literally meaning “Oh! My kids.”
The unbothered Wang waited for her to regain before he straightened up, pulled out a letter from his drawer and pushed it to her to sign. He asked what the letter was about and he said it was a resignation designed for her signature. Bitter and angry, she banged the door behind her and left, crying. “Since that moment, I am yet to learn how to cop up with my new status. That afternoon, Namuyomba and Kato had their services terminated by the all-powerful CCCC Limited.
The above duo is not alone. The investigator has landed on documents of a law suit slapped against CCCC where, eight other victims have penned and sworn affidavits in support of Namuyomba and Kato. Through their lawyers of TASLAF Advocates and Consultants the pair have dragged the Chinese company to court over among other charges, depriving them of the right to privacy.
It is a sad tale that started on the afternoon of March 31st 2017of when, the two, along with other colleagues were abruptly picked from their workstation, saying they were being taken to the Head Offices for an unidentified assignment. To their surprise, they we instead dropped at the Sseguku-based Doctors’ Clinic along Entebbe road. They were compulsorily subjected to medical check-ups under strict supervision of one of the managers.
“The manager told us whoever declines the medical checks would automatically lose their employment. We were left with no option,” cried Namuyomba. Their pleas that the results be handed to them privately fell on deaf ears. They were never informed of the reasons for the medical check-ups, nor was their consent sought for the test of HIV screening as required by the Country’s law.
“We asked for the results but the doctors, as well as the staff at the Doctors’ Clinic informed us that they (results) were strictly to be shared with the Office Manager,” lamented Kato. “The impugned actions of the Defendants were in breach of the plaintiffs’ human rights to privacy, equality and freedom from discrimination based on one’s HIV status and amounted to unfair and unlawful termination from employment,” reads the plaint under civil suit number 195/17 of the Civil Division, High Court Kampala.
The duo (Namuyomba and Kato), along with others we talked to retorted that the Chinese Company, without any notice or valid reasons terminated their employment which has exposed them to stigma from former workmates and have failed to get any other form of employment because they have been exposed as HIV positive.
What does the law say?
The plaintiffs’ lawyers have filed with court, legal challenges faced with CCCC. They charge that the Company’s actions “of terminating our clients and other employees were unfair, illegal and a violation of Human Rights as encompassed under Articles 50(1) and (2), 20, 24, 28 and 44 of the constitution of Uganda, 1995 and Section 6, 71, 66 and 75 of the Employment Act 2006.”
They further aver that CCCC’s said infringement, arising from their actions defines that their actions in dismissing the affected from employment on grounds of HIV and or health status infringed their right to equality and freedom from discrimination which, contravenes Article 21 (1) and (2) of the 1995 Constitution as well as Sections 6 (3) and 75 (g) of the Employment Act 2006, plus Section 1 of the Equal Opportunities Commission Act 2007.
Contacted, the CCCC CEO Mr. Zeng said he wasn’t aware of the matter but promised to contact us after consultations with his HRM Manager, Mr. Hao. “I need to consult the HRM to know whether they are our employees or not. If they are our employees and have gone to court, we shall hand the matter over to our lawyers.” He was however, yet to get back to us by the time we filed this report. Watch this space.