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Another strike set to hit health services

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Northern Cape will be severely affected

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PUBLIC health care in the Northern Cape is likely to be severely impacted if a looming national strike by pathology service providers materialises.

This is according to the Northern Cape secretary of the National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union (Nehawu), Sabata Jonas, who said yesterday that the mass action would commence on Wednesday next week unless workers’ demands were met.

Earlier this week, the Department of Health was locked in a meeting with the National Health Laboratory Services (NHLS) and unions in a bid to broker a solution to an impasse over wage negotiations.

A dispute has already been lodged with the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) for conciliation, but it has been stayed pending further negotiations.

This has now sparked fears that public clinics and hospitals, which receive more than 80 percent of all pathology diagnostic services from the NHLS, will be at the receiving end if the strike goes ahead.

Workers’ demands include a 13 percent wage increase, along with housing and rural allowances, and better medical aid.

Jonas explained yesterday that while an agreement had been signed between members and their employer a year ago, there were still several undertakings that had been agreed upon but were yet to be put in place.

“One example is the insourcing of temporary staff, such as cleaners and drivers, where no acceptable reason has been provided for the failure of implementation,” said Jonas.

“Having resumed negotiations for the current financial year, the employer has cried bankruptcy and is not able to provide a wage increase when our members have already been hit hard by inflation.

“The majority of affected employees in the Northern Cape belong to Nehawu and noting the mandating meetings, which were very well attended, strike action will result in no one attending to any work.

“Night shifts will definitely not be attended to this time.”

“Members are resolute about embarking on a fully-blown strike given the unanimous mandate for a strike observed at the national meeting.”

Jonas said that while the chief demand of the union was the insourcing of NHLS itself back to the Department of Health, the union believed that this mass action would also resolve many conditions of service of the employees.

“This strike will definitely impact negatively on clients in the Province and might cause distress among many individuals in need of the services,” Jonas predicted. “We call on the community in this regard to support the union in ensuring that they receive quality service on this matter and appeal to their patience.”

Leon Gilbert, the Public Servants Association’s assistant general manager for collective bargaining, said that their demand was 7.3 percent, but that the NHLS had claimed to have no money in its coffers.

Gilbert said they referred the matter to the CCMA, but this had been postponed to allow parties to reach an agreement.

“Our demand is reasonable under the current circumstances. Hopefully they will find the money,” Gilbert said.

The PSA spokesperson was adamant that his union would not back down any further since their demand has been reduced through negotiations.

“It (NHLS) must get its funding in order. That is a fair demand,” he said.

The DA’s Patricia Kopane said it was crucial that arrangements were made in advance with private laboratories. A strike would be devastating for patients in need of urgent tests for HIV/Aids, malaria, cancer, and multidrug-resistant TB, she said

“This strike could have devastating consequences, seeing that the NHLS is responsible for more than 80 percent of the country’s pathology diagnostic services,” she added.

She called on the Health Minister, Aaron Motsoaledi, to provide a detailed plan of action in order to mitigate the devastating consequences of a strike.