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Lawyers Alert sues FG over non-implementation of HIV workplace policy

By Olawale Oyegbade, The Nigerian Voice, S/W Bureau Chief 
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A nonprofit organization, Lawyers Alert Nigeria has dragged the federal government to court over non-implementation of HIV workplace policy by employers of labour in the country.

The Director of Programs, Lawyers Alert Nigeria, Roseline Oghenebrume said the action became very necessary so that the office of the Attorney-General of the Federation would do the needful.

Oghenebrume explained that the HIV and AIDS (anti-discrimination) Act was enacted in 2014 to discourage discrimination against persons living with HIV and AIDS particularly at the workplace. She wondered why it was not implemented since.

She added that the law stipulates that agencies and employers must put in place a workplace policy on HIV/AIDS in their institutions so as to prevent discrimination.

According to her, "in specific, Section 21 (1) of the HIV/AIDS (anti-discrimination) Act, 2014 stipulates that an employer that employed five or more persons shall, in consultation with the employees or their representatives, adopt a written workplace policy that is consistent with the National HIV and AIDS workplace policy for its working environment”.

"Subsection 2 of the same section goes further to state that the workplace polices shall be lodged with the Minister for Labour and Productivity, currently known as Minister for Labour and Employment."

"Section 24 (1) of the same Act goes on to repose the duty of ensuring compliance and enforcement of the entire provisions of the Act on the Attorney-General of the Federation."

"The HIV and AIDS (anti-discrimination) Act, 2014, therefore specifically reposes the duty to ensure compliance with the entire HIV and AIDS (anti-discrimination) Act, 2014, including section 21 (1) of the same Act on the Attorney-General of the Federation", Oghenebrume explained.

She explained further that by virtue of section 150 (1) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended), the Attorney-General of the Federation who is also the Minister for Justice, is the Chief Law Officer in Nigeria, and therefore responsible for and oversees all legal affairs of the nation.

Speaking further, Oghenebrume said "Lawyers Alert under our free legal assistance project for vulnerable groups is in court in several cases, where persons living with HIV are discriminated against and either denied employment even when qualified and able, or outrightly dismissed on account of their status and no more. This is a gross violation of their human rights, and the right to work."

It would be recalled that Lawyers Alert recently won a case in court in favour of a man that was sacked by his employer because he is HIV positive.

The National Industrial Court held that dismissing employees on the basis of their perceived or actual HIV-status is unlawful and discriminatory.

Justice Agbakoba of the Abuja Industrial Court found that the 2014 HIV and AIDS Anti-Discrimination Act is clearly applicable against private employers and prohibits discrimination against existing and prospective employees.

Oghenebrume said that Lawyers Alert is witnessing increasing acts of discrimination against Persons Living with HIV and AIDS in workplaces in Nigeria, as evidenced by more uptake of similar cases by Lawyers Alert.

She said that the current situation compelled Lawyers Alert to approach the National Industrial Court of Nigeria, Abuja, with a suit against the Attorney-General of the Federation for neglecting and not overseeing his duty to ensure compliance with section 21 (1) of the HIV and AIDS (anti-discrimination) Act, 2014.

Lawyers Alert urged the court to compel Attorney-General to carry on his stipulated duties as provided by the HIV and AIDS (anti-discrimination) Act, 2014.