Laboratory strike enters fourth day with new wage offer on the table

Author: Ernest Mabuza

The strike at the National Health Laboratory Service (NHLS) entered its fourth day on Monday as unions presented a revised wage offer to their members. The strike — which began on Wednesday — has crippled the service‚ which provides laboratory and related public health services to over 80% of the population through a national network of laboratories.

The NHLS has been using private laboratory services for emergency tests required by hospitals.

The National Education‚ Health and Allied Workers’ Union (Nehawu) also called for the NHLS to be reintegrated into the Department of Health.

The service said the biggest challenge facing it was non-payment by provincial health departments for laboratory services it had rendered.

It singled out the Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal health departments as the biggest defaulters but said KwaZulu-Natal had been paying for their current consumption since the 2016-17 financial year.

The Gauteng health department owes the NHLS about R700m.

Nehawu general secretary Zola Saphetha said the union would continue to apply pressure to ensure that the NHLS was reintegrated into the health department.

Saphetha said a revised offer was put on the table for consideration by unions in a bid to end the impasse during a meeting on Friday.

“The union is currently embarking on a consultation process with its members for a mandate. While under the mandating process‚ the strike continues in full swing‚” Saphetha said on Monday.

He said a national bargaining forum of the NHLS would convene on Wednesday at which a final decision would be taken about the offer and the strike.

The offer from the employer‚ apart from a 7.3% salary increase effective from April this year‚ also includes the “insourcing” of gardening‚ cleaning and security services by the NHLS.

The employer also offered a 13th cheque on a prorated basis, a R1,500 living allowance and compulsory medical aid from April 1   2019.

Last week, acting NHLS head Prof Shabir Madhi said the NHLS would outsource “essential tests” to private laboratories and bill them the NHLS tariffs for those tests. But tests would not be outsourced for primary healthcare facilities, including tests for TB, HIV, CD4 counts, pap smears, sexually transmitted infections, haemoglobin, full blood count, urea and electrolytes, and prostate specific antigens.

While the strike is nationwide, the Gauteng health department says  it has contingency plans in place to mitigate the effects of the strike and deal with backlogs.

Saphetha said the union went on strike as a last resort after failing to reach an agreement with the NHLS.

Public Servants Association deputy general manager Tahir Maepa said the union was consulting with members.

Maepa said the offer to insource the three services was promising.

However‚ Maepa said there was no offer from the employer about a housing allowance.

Unions had demanded a housing allowance of R2‚000.

DA shadow health minister Jack Bloom said the underlying problem at the NHLS was severe mismanagement over a long period of time and the non-payment for services of provincial health departments.

Source: Business Day