EIPR: Opening up All Jobs to those with Hepatitis C is a Positive Step against Discrimination but it is Not Enough

Press Release

3 August 2010

The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) welcomed today Minister of Health Decree 371/2010 prohibiting discrimination against people with hepatitis C and upholding their right to work. The decree states that having the virus “does not preclude medical fitness for appointment to all positions as long as the liver functions normally and there are no complications that inhibit the candidate’s ability to perform the job as required by the position.” The EIPR believes this decree is an important, clarifying step in eliminating discrimination and respecting the rights of individuals. Nevertheless, it is not enough to end discrimination against similar groups of people, such as those living with HIV or hepatitis B, who have been wrongfully deprived of work.

Dr. Alaa Ghanaam, Director of the EIPR’s Right to Health Program, said, “The right to health and the right to work are basic components of the International Bill of Human Rights. This upholds the right of all citizens to health care and the right to work, which is also guaranteed by the Constitution.”

Ministerial Decree 133/1983 on medical fitness for employment specified three levels of medical fitness and established three classes for the degree to which an illness affects the ability to work: 1) illnesses that preclude work; 2) illnesses that may preclude certain kinds of work; and 3) illnesses that defer appointment. Hepatitis C is not included among any of these three categories, but it has been the policy and practice of some public and private institutions to routinely disqualify job candidates with hepatitis C or B, as well as HIV. In turn, this has deprived individuals of work and access to health care.

“Previous ministerial decrees gave some agencies, such as the Suez Canal Authority, the right to set employment criteria that discriminated against citizens on the basis of health,” said Alaa Ghanaam. “These decrees allowed them to deny some individuals a job even if they had illnesses that were not named in Decree 133/1983. Among those denied their right to work were people with hepatitis C, although this illness does not prevent an individual from working or interfere with the performance of his basic professional duties if he is granted his right to comprehensive insured health care.”

Most notably, in 2009, the Supreme Administrative Court ruled on a case filed by a citizen who was denied employment at the State Council because he has hepatitis C. In that case (appeal no. 124/53) the court ruled that “the right of citizens to work cannot be undermined or restricted in such a way as to obstruct their role in the advancement of the community and the fulfillment of its needs. The administrative body, as the body empowered to manage the public welfare within the framework of laws and regulations, is not authorized to intervene with a decree or measure that obstructs this right or restricts the exercise of it…There is no debate that the treatment of these illnesses and others is incumbent on the state, and it is impermissible for the state to use it [an individual's medical condition] without a legal basis as a means of denying citizens employment.”

The EIPR applauds the latest ministerial decree as a good step towards ending discrimination against citizens on the basis of health, but it is still not sufficient to stop discriminatory treatment of people with certain illnesses when it comes to their rights to work, education and health care. The EIPR urges all competent authorities to implement the decree immediately and cautions private and public employers against seeking to circumvent the decree.