Employees of the National Health Laboratory Service have called for a salary adjustment of 7.3%, a housing allowance of R2 000 a month and a shift allowance of R50, or 45% of their hourly rate – whichever is greater.
The National Education Health and Allied Workers’ Union (Nehawu) nationwide strike at the National Health Laboratory Service was “so far so good” a spokesperson said on Thursday.
“Thus far we had no issues. All the workers are picketing because this NHLS issue has been going on for far too long. We will not stop our strike until our demands are met,” Nehawu spokesperson Khaya Xaba told News24.
He said the union was willing to continue the strike until all demands were effected.
“They need to come to the table with better offers at the least. We are not willing to let our workers suffer any longer.”
He said that while striking at the Johannesburg NHLS office this morning, protesters were asked to move away from a main gate.
“Our only incident was when a guard felt we were too close to a gate. We spoke to workers and they agreed to move back. We will be peaceful and do not expect any incidents,” said Xaba.
NHLS management confirmed on Wednesday morning that its employees were on strike.
“Despite [our] best attempts at addressing the demands of unions during the 2017/18 salary negotiations, we have been unsuccessful to reach a compromise position,” NHLS spokesperson Professor Shabir Madhi said in a statement.
“Although [the] exact impact of the strike cannot yet be determined, the NHLS will operationalise contingency plans to mitigate the risk of compromising the lives of South Africans.”
Madhi said that as of Wednesday morning, the NHLS would be “unable to offer its full basket of laboratory services”.
The strike was initiated after negotiations between workers and the NHLS reached a deadlock.
Nehawu said demands were submitted to the NHLS on February 24. The CCMA issued a certificate of non-resolution on June 22.
Among the employee demands are a salary adjustment of 7.3%, a housing allowance of R2 000 a month and a shift allowance of R50, or 45% of their hourly rate – whichever is the greater.
The NHLS in turn said that employees also demanded the insourcing of all current security, cleaning and maintenance personnel that are contracted to external service providers.
Madhi said the negotiations had been made more difficult by the fact that the NHLS is servicing debt of R5bn, in part due to non-payment by provincial health departments.
“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,” he said.
National health department spokesperson Joe Maila said it was unfortunate that the unions had embarked on a strike after the department DG facilitated a meeting with NHLS to find solutions.
“We were hoping that the meeting will assist in averting the strike and we are still hopeful that parties will come back to the negotiation table.”
Gauteng Democratic Alliance health spokesperson Jack Bloom said that lives could be at risk if there were delays in tests for HIV/Aids, malaria, cancer, and multi-drug resistant TB.
“Private laboratories should be used as much as possible, but will probably not be able to cope with all the tests for state patients,” he said.