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Lab strike can be averted

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Northern Cape is one of the provinces that owes almost R700 million to the National Health Laboratory Services

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About 5 000 workers from the National Health Laboratory Services (NHLS) around the country are set to go on strike on Wednesday – action that some warn could be averted.

Jack Bloom of the DA believes that the strike could be called off if the Northern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng pay what they owe NHLS.

The National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union (Nehawu) has confirmed that NHLS workers are currently preparing for a national strike this week.

“This looming strike is a result of the failed wage negotiations between the employer and organised labour,” Nehawu claimed in a statement.

Some of the employee demands include a salary adjustment of 7.3 percent, a housing allowance of R2 000 per month and a shift allowance of R50 or 45 percent of hourly rate – whichever is the greater.

According to Nehawu, all these demands were submitted to the NHLS on February 24, sparking marathon wage negotiations aimed at having the salary increases settled and implemented by April 1.

But when discussions deadlocked the unions declared a dispute. All internal processes aimed at resolving the dispute failed and the matter was referred to the CCMA for facilitation.

Tahir Maepa of the Public Servants Association said the full implementation of the wage agreement has been dragging on since August last year.

“Labour tabled its wage demand for 2017 on February 24 and by April 26 the employer had failed to meaningfully respond and so a dispute was declared,” said Maepa.

“When the internal dispute procedure failed to resolve the impasse, the matter was referred to the CCMA for conciliation on May 19. The matter remained unresolved and a certificate of non-resolution was issued by the CCMA on June 22.”

Maepa said he was not aware of any unhappiness pertaining directly to working conditions, but was aware that employees were unhappy with their salaries.

Nehawu confirmed that a series of meetings were further convened with both the National Department of Health and management of NHLS with the intention to intervene on the wage dispute in order to avoid the impending strike action.

According to Nehawu, the NHLS and the Department of Public Health are guilty of underpaying workers who are critical at the point of service.

“It is at this point that we call upon South African society to join hands with us in our quest to bring back our NHLS into public service,” said Khaya Xaba, spokesperson for Nehawu, adding that they did not want public health services to be outsourced.

Bloom said unions were demanding increases of between 7.3 percent and 13 percent, while the NHLS was offering only three percent, “clearly too low as it is well below the inflation rate”.

“Reasonable wage demands could be met if the Gauteng Health Department just paid the R696 million that it owes the NHLS.”

If the strike goes ahead on Wednesday many thousands of state patients will suffer as diagnostic tests are delayed.

According to Joe Maila, spokesperson for the National Health Department, authorities are aware of the intention to strike notice that was submitted by organised labour to the NHLS.

Commenting on the R696 million that the department owes to NHLS, Maila said on Friday: “Three provinces – Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal and Northern Cape – owe NHLS. They have committed to pay within seven working days.” – Health-e News.