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Lab strike suspended

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NHLS employees expected to return to work this morning

BACK TO WORK: Local NHLS workers will return to work today. Photo: Danie van der Lith

NATIONAL Health Laboratory Services (NHLS) employees in the Northern Cape are expected to return to work this morning after a resolution between the employer and unions brought the week-long national strike to an end yesterday.

National Education, Health and Allied Workers Union (Nehawu) provincial secretary, Sabata Jonas, confirmed yesterday that NHLS services would return to normal in the Northern Cape this morning after the national strike was suspended with immediate effect, pending the finalisation of the settlement agreement which took place at a meeting between the union and employer yesterday afternoon.

“The decision was taken following the conclusion of an extensive consultation with members on the revised offer tabled by the management of the NHLS on Friday last week,” Jonas explained.

He stated that while workers in the Northern Cape would be reporting for duty this morning, the exact impact of the strike on local services was difficult to measure.

“As a union, we had no intention to disrupt services to the people,” he said. “However, the fact that the employer has tabled reasonable proposals to negotiate, indicates that the NHLS has suffered a serious loss.

“While everything cannot be won in all battles, the agreement indicates a massive victory for workers. The way forward is that after the agreement has been signed, this will be explained to the members and the union will receive new mandates on areas to be processed for further negotiations.”

Spokesperson for the Northern Cape Department of Health, Lulu Mxekezo, said that while laboratories in the Province were yesterday still operating with a skeleton staff, the department was optimistic that services would return to normal today.

“We are hopeful that all services will be rendered fully to improve the quality of care for our patients,” she said.

Meanwhile, the acting CEO of the NHLS, Shabir Madhi, welcomed the end to the strike, saying that while services were being restored,it remained a pity that they were interrupted in the first place and he apologised to all affected.

“Although it is unfortunate that this strike has taken place, despite the efforts of the NHLS to avoid it, testing of samples at NHLS laboratories has resumed,” he confirmed.

“Whilst the contingency plans that were implemented by the NHLS to provide essential laboratory diagnostics were generally successful, the NHLS wishes to extend an apology to the provincial health departments and the general public of South Africa for any inconvenience that the strike action might have caused.”

Madhi also thanked non-striking staff and workers in the private sector for assisting with crucial testing and services during the week-long interruption.

“As with any strike action, the disruption of services has created a backlog which the NHLS will now redouble its efforts to address,” he added. “Notably, such a backlog is unlikely to have placed patients’ lives in jeopardy since the NHLS continued undertaking emergency tests during the strike action.”

Madhi, however, warned that outstanding money owed by various provincial health departments to the service provider, remained a major cause for concern which could see workers down tools again in the foreseeable future.

“Being a non-profit public entity, the NHLS derives its income solely from provincial health departments for the laboratory services provided,” he explained.

“As such, unless significant inroads are made in paying the debt owed to the NHLS, as well as keeping up with current payments for services procured, the public health service potentially faces an even greater threat within the next few months than what was witnessed over the past week.”