Minister urges provinces to pay lab debs

Author: Mayibongwe Maqhina

HEALTH Minister Dr Aaron Motsoaledi wants a law to be enacted to provide for a mechanism that will ensure the National Health Laboratory Services (NHLS) do 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 (provincial departments) to pay up,” Motsoaledi said yesterday.

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

NHLS’s Shabir Madhi blamed failure to meet the union demands to “the biggest challenge” of non-payment by provincial departments of health for laboratory services rendered.

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

Madhi said the biggest defaulters were Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal, but the latter has been paying for their current consumption since the 2016/7 financial year.

“This outstanding debt has negatively affected the cash flow of the NHLS,” he said.

“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,” he said.

The unions had initially demanded a 13% increase, which was revised to 7.3%; a R2 000 monthly housing allowance; and a R500 monthly danger allowance for employees potentially exposed to infectious organisms, among others.

NHLS, which initially offered a 3% salary, increased its offer to 7.3% after the national Health Department mediated in the negotiations.

Madhi said the revised offer had not yet been accepted by the unions, which also demand in-sourcing 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 NHLS Board.”

Nehawu spokesperson Khaya Xaba said the strike continued as the NHLS wanted to implement the in-sourced labour brokers in September 2018.

“We want September 2018. That’s where the problem is. September 2018 is too far,” he said.

Hospersa general secretary Noel Desfontaines said his union was looking for a mandate from  members on whether to accept the NHLS offer.

Both Xaba and Desfontaines said NHLS had yet to approach them for further negotiations.

However, Motsoaledi lashed out at the unions and provincial department, particularly the latter for not paying NHLS.

“There is no minister (or) MEC that is not encouraged to pay. We even agreed on non-negotiables,” he said, referring to laboratory services as non-negotiable. He said departments ought to be paying for services currently rendered.

But KwaZuu-Natal Health MEC Sibongiseni Dhlomo said his department was up to date with payments for services rendered.

He also said his department paid R200m last week towards the disputed debt at the request of the department.

“Discussions are ongoing to deal with old debt,” Dhlomo said.

Source: DFA