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Health laboratory strike in full swing

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Although exact impact of the strike cannot yet be determined, pathological services brought to a halt

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A wage strike by thousands of employees at the National Health Laboratory Service (NHLS) has brought pathological services to a halt, the NHLS said on Wednesday.
NHLS director Shabir Madhi said his organisation had done its best in addressing unions’ demands during salary negotiations.
”Although the exact impact of the strike cannot yet be determined, the NHLS will put into operation contingency plans to mitigate the risk of compromising the lives of South Africans dependent on the public health sector. It will, however, be unable to offer its full basket of laboratory services as of Wednesday, 26 July,” Madhi said in a statement.
The NHLS provides diagnostic pathology services to government departments, such as blood tests.
Madhi said the unions’ initial demand was an annual increase of 13 percent across the board for employees, whilst the NHLS could only offer 3 percent.
”We have been unsuccessful to reach a compromise position. This, despite significant compromises approved by the NHLS board that pose a significant financial risk to the NHLS should it not receive payments due to it and servicing of debt totalling more than R5 billion owed by a select few provincial health departments.’
”Following subsequent negotiations and interventions by the director-general in the national Department of Health, the NHLS board proposed a revised offer to unions at a meeting that was held on 24 July.”
The NHLS tabled a revised offer of 7.3 percent increase and agreed to other work condition demands, including doing away with outsourcing of services by April next year.
Said Madhi: ”However, the revised offer has not yet been accepted by the unions, which demanded immediate implementation of Proficiency Assessment promotion and insourcing of current security, cleaning and maintenance personnel contracted to external service providers. The NHLS board is unable to accede to these timelines, since the tools and the full costing to enable Proficiency Assessment promotion and insourcing are yet to be finalised and approved by the board. Furthermore, additional union demands include an increase form of medical aid subsidy and living allowance adjustments.”
The difficulty in acceding to workers’ demands was worsened by mounting debt by provincial health departments who owed the laboratory millions in unpaid services. KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng were the biggest defaulters, said Madhi.
It is believed the Northern Cape is also in arrears with the NHLS.
”This outstanding debt has negatively affected the cash flow of the NHLS. It is critical that the current efforts supported by the national Department of Health to recover money owed to the NHLS be urgently addressed to ensure the financial viability of the NHLS and enable it to continue carrying out its mandate of providing quality laboratory services to the public health sector.”
National Health and Allied Workers Union (Nehawu) spokesman Khaya Xaba said the union had since revised their wage demand down to 7.3 percent, insourcing of services, a R2,000 housing allowance, a R500 danger and rural allowance that should include drivers, receiving clerks, messengers, cleaners ”and any other job categories potentially exposed to infectious organisms”.
He said mediation and conciliation efforts facilitated by the CCMA had failed resolve the dispute. The NHLS was served with a strike notice last week.
– African News Agency (ANA)