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Strike cripples lab operations

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Workers at the National Health Laboratory Services continue with their nationwide strike despite payment of R21.4 million

Mass action by NHLS workers in Kimberley, which started on Wednesday, is continuing. Picture: Danie van der Lith

LABORATORY services in the Northern Cape, including HIV/Aids and TB testing, remain essentially crippled as workers at the National Health Laboratory Service (NHLS) continue with their nationwide strike.

The strike follows a breakdown in wage negotiations earlier this week.

Local co-ordinator of the National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union (Nehawu), Tebogo Seshune, yesterday reiterated that the strike was likely to have far-reaching consequences as the mass action had already resulted in even skeleton staff at the NHLS being unable to perform their tasks efficiently.

“There were only about four staff members at work (at the laboratory at the Kimberley Hospital Complex) when the mass action started on Wednesday but the strike has now seen the laboratory unable to function,” Seshune said yesterday.

“We will continue our protest as the employer is yet to agree to our terms and has only conceded to the 7.3 percent wage increase and not our other demands.”

The NHLS provides laboratory and related public health services to more than 80 percent of the population through a national network of laboratories in provincial and district hospitals throughout the country.

Among the key services of the NHLS are the national HIV/Aids treatment programme through CD4 testing, viral load studies and HIV treatment monitoring.

The NHLS also conducts TB diagnosis and treatment monitoring, cervical cancer screening and support of occupational health services.

Meanwhile, Health Minister Dr Aaron Motsoaledi wants laws to be enacted to provide for a mechanism that will ensure that the NHLS does not depend on provincial departments for funding.

“We believe it is important that NHLS is directly funded from the fiscus as opposed to provinces as there is no law to force them (the provincial departments) to pay up,” Motsoaledi said.

He made the comments as the NHLS was hit by the first day of the nationwide strike after it deadlocked with unions over wage negotiations.

According to media reports, the Northern Cape, Gauteng and Eastern Cape had failed to pay billions owed to the NHLS.

However, provincial spokesperson for the Department of Health, Lulu Mxekezo, said this week that the department had settled its outstanding account of R21.4 million owed to the NHLS.

The acting head of the NHLS, Shabir Madhi, has blamed the failure to meet the union demands on “the biggest challenge” of non-payment by provincial departments of Health for laboratory services rendered.

Madhi said that they were owed R5 billion and acceding to worker demands would “pose a significant financial risk to the NHLS”.