“Those with a Covid positive history need not apply,” a recent online advertisement for security guards read. Many other employment ads have taken a similar line, demanding a “clean health history” or featuring a ‘sun’ emoji (which means ‘positive’) followed by the words “don’t want”.
It doesn’t seem to matter that applicants may have recovered from Covid months ago. Policy-fuelled paranoia around the pandemic means that these kinds of job-seekers are treated as pariahs.
Some 5.3 million mainland Chinese have contracted Covid 19 in the last two and half years, many of whom are younger, working-age people. One such person is Zhang Sheng, a young women profiled by the Southern Metropolis Daily this month.
The article – titled “Driven Out, Discriminated Against, Discarded” – detailed how Zhang was infected with the coronavirus after she took a job as a carer in a home for the elderly in Shanghai.
It was early March and Covid numbers were on the rise at the care home. Attracted by the money the seniors facility was paying, Zhang, a migrant worker, took the job. Two days later she fell sick and was sent to a government treatment centre.
That was more than three months ago and despite regularly testing negative since then, she can’t find anyone else to employ her. Further, she can’t go home because people coming from Shanghai still have to quarantine (at their own cost) when they travel to other areas and because her family worry that she will infect them too.
“It’s like the plague, everyone is scared,” she told the newspaper.
Other examples from domestic media include a woman called A’fen who is living at a railway station because she’s jobless and thus can’t afford conventional accommodation, and Liu Li, an unemployed migrant worker who was prevented from using his savings to rent a room in Shanghai because he had a Covid- positive history.
Some job ads even ban people who haven’t tested positive for Covid but who have spent time in quarantine centres because they were in contact with someone who had.
Around a third of China’s workforce migrates for employment, often taking short-term contracts or informal positions as factory workers, delivery drivers, cleaners and restaurant servers.
These arrangements allow employers to lay people off at short notice and to dictate the terms on which they hire them back.
Some recruitment firms have said that much larger multinational manufacturers are also insisting on a ‘no-history-of-Covid’ hiring policy because the government’s ‘zero-Covid’ rules would mean whole factory sections would have to be shut down if a single case is discovered.
How a previous case of Covid makes someone more likely to contract it again is unclear. And discrimination like this is technically illegal under existing laws – something that Shanghai government spokesperson Yin Xin emphasised at a recent press conference. “People who have recovered from Covid should not be labelled or discriminated against in their work and life,” she said.
The China Daily concurred: “Such practices are outrageous. Not only do they rub salt in the wounds of those who have already suffered so much… they are also illegal,” it warned.
For many legal commentators the answer to this conundrum is to alter peoples’ Covid records so that only their current status, rather than their whole history, is visible on the Covid monitoring apps.
Health experts have also said there needs to be more public education about the benefits of completing vaccination programmes and, over the longer term, a move away from the policy of zero-Covid demanded by the government.
“It is not difficult to think of the reasons why the recruiting party arbitrarily decides to reject people who have recovered from the coronavirus. Under the pressure of epidemic prevention and control, once the pandemic recurs, they may face severe consequences of regulatory penalties and economic losses at the same time,” wrote the Southern Metropolis Daily.
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