Failed talks could lead to lab strikes

Health min­is­ter called to pro­vide a plan of ac­tion

The Star Early Edition - - NEWS - MAYIBONGWE MAQHINA

THE Health De­part­ment was yes­ter­day locked in a meet­ing with the Na­tional Health Lab­o­ra­tory Ser­vices (NHLS) and unions in a bid to bro­ker a so­lu­tion to an im­passe over wage ne­go­ti­a­tions.

This takes place amid threats by some of the unions to em­bark on strike ac­tion fol­low­ing the fail­ure to reach an agree­ment with the NHLS.

A dis­pute has al­ready been lodged with the Com­mis­sion for Con­cil­i­a­tion, Me­di­a­tion and Ar­bi­tra­tion (CCMA) for con­cil­i­a­tion, but it has been stayed pend­ing fur­ther ne­go­ti­a­tions.

This has now sparked fears that pub­lic clin­ics and hos­pi­tals, which re­ceive more than 80% of all pathol­ogy di­ag­nos­tic ser­vices from NHLS, will be at the re­ceiv­ing end if the strike goes ahead.

The re­cent strike by mor­tu­ary work­ers in Gaut­eng had a dev­as­tat­ing ef­fect on mem­bers of the pub­lic, with more than 300 bod­ies hav­ing to lie for weeks await­ing post-mortems.

In an in­ter­view, de­part­ment spokesper­son Joe Maila said the meet­ing with the NHLS and the unions was called out of con­cern for the wel­fare of the peo­ple.

“We are try­ing to find a way to get the par­ties to agree with one another,” Maila said.

Both the Na­tional Health Ed­u­ca­tion & Al­lied Work­ers Union (Ne­hawu) and the Pub­lic Ser­vants As­so­ci­a­tion (PSA) con­firmed the meet­ing.

They have tabled for salary in­creases rang­ing be­tween 7.3% and 13%.

It is be­lieved the NHLS is of­fer­ing 3% due to fund­ing chal­lenges. How­ever, this could not be con­firmed as it did not re­spond to spe­cific me­dia ques­tions.

In a state­ment, NHLS act­ing chief ex­ec­u­tive Shabir Madhi con­firmed that the ques­tion of salary in­creases had not yet been re­solved. He said the CCMA had is­sued unions with a cer­tifi­cate to em­bark on a pro­tected strike.

“The NHLS has, how­ever, not yet re­ceived a no­tice from labour of its in­ten­tion to em­bark on a strike, and NHLS man­age­ment re­mains en­gaged with labour to find­ing an am­i­ca­ble so­lu­tion to avert the strike,” he said.

Ne­hawu spokesper­son Khaya Xaba said the union has tabled a 13% salary in­crease de­mand, but the NHLS had yet to make a counter-of­fer.

“The re­sponse of the NHLS will be a de­ter­min­ing fac­tor with re­gard to our next step,” Xaba said.

Leon Gil­bert, PSA’s as­sis­tant gen­eral man­ager for col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing, said their de­mand was 7.3%, but that the NHLS had claimed to have no money in its cof­fers.

Gil­bert said they re­ferred the mat­ter to the CCMA, but this had been post­poned to al­low par­ties to reach an agree­ment.

“Our de­mand is rea­son­able un­der the cur­rent cir­cum­stances,” Gil­bert said.

Con­tacted for com­ment, Health and Other Ser­vice Per­son­nel Trade Union of South Africa gen­eral sec­re­tary Noel Des­fontaines would only say “we are seek­ing a man­date”.

Gil­bert was adamant that his union would not back down any fur­ther since its de­mand had been re­duced through ne­go­ti­a­tions.

“It (NHLS) must get its fund­ing in or­der. That is a fair de­mand,” he said.

The unions’ tough stance has now prompted the DA to ask Health Min­is­ter Aaron Mot­soaledi to in­ter­vene.

The DA’s Patricia Kopane said it was cru­cial that ar­range­ments were made in ad­vance with pri­vate lab­o­ra­to­ries. A strike would be dev­as­tat­ing for pa­tients in need of ur­gent tests for HIV/Aids, malaria, can­cer, and Multi-Drug Re­sis­tant TB, she said.

She called on Mot­soaledi to pro­vide a de­tailed plan of ac­tion in or­der to mit­i­gate the dev­as­tat­ing con­se­quences of a strike.

“Past tragedies have shown that the na­tional Health De­part­ment’s in­ac­tion has been at the cen­tre of too many crises in the health-care sec­tor.”

Madhi said the NHLS was aware of the pos­si­ble neg­a­tive im­pact that the strike might have.

“NHLS man­age­ment in var­i­ous prov­inces will work with the pro­vin­cial de­part­ments of health to min­imise the im­pact,” he said, adding that they were work­ing on con­tin­gency plans to en­sure that es­sen­tial lab­o­ra­tory ser­vices were pro­vided.

We are try­ing to find a way to get par­ties to agree

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