NHLS chief executive condemns strike
THE BIGGEST obstacle faced by national health laboratories in the country is that unions are undermining the South African public.
This condemnation was made by Professor Shabir Madhi, the acting chief executive of the National Health Laboratory Services (NHLS), yesterday in reaction to the National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union’s (Nehawu) assertions that it will intensify strike action.
Madhi rebuked Nehawu for what he said was vandalism of NHLS property by union members during the strike.
The union began the strike last week after what it called “deadlocked negotiations” with the employer, and vowed to intensify the strike should its members reject the NHLS’s 7.3% offer.
Nehawu said at a briefing in Joburg yesterday that, with the strike in its fourth day, the NHLS was paying “exorbitant fees” to private sector laboratories instead of paying workers what the union felt was due to them.
“We have it on good authority that some of the NHLS board members have interests in these private laboratories. We, therefore, demand full disclosure of all the monies paid to these laboratories prior and during the strike,” said Zola Saphetha, Nehawu’s general secretary.
However, Madhi slammed Saphetha’s contentions of NHLS’s board members having interests in the private labs used by the state entity.
“It is actually a useless attempt on their part to deceive the public that there are other vested interests at play. In fact, the big problem we face now is the unions themselves, which are undermining the public of South Africa,” Madhi said.
‘Us as workers are also members of SA society’
He added his entity would “obviously continue” paying private sector providers as Nehawu prevented the NHLS from providing a service to South Africans.
Madhi said the money used to pay private companies will be deducted from the salaries of workers who are on strike.
“So, that is where the money is going to come from to enable us to afford to pay private sector providers. Nehawu should have spoken about the implication of their strike action on the financial well-being of the organisation,” he added.
Saphetha countered Madhi’s views, saying they were forced into a strike as they were dealing with an “intransigent management” that was not willing to pay workers what they deserved.
“It’s (the strike) not something that we wanted to happen. But that’s what the law provides workers with. If we can’t find each other and are dealing with an intransigent management, the only option that is our constitutional right is to withdraw the labour,” Saphetha said.
“Of course this will affect some innocent people. Remember, us as workers are also members of South African society. So we are affected too, in the same way as they (the public) are affected. It is on that basis, before we even ventured into a strike, we called upon South African society to help us find an amicable solution to avert the strike.”
Five thousand workers are currently on strike, and the NHLS and Nehawu conceded the industrial action gravely affected services.
Madhi condemned Nehawu for “vandalism in NHLS Eastern Cape labs, including littering of biohazard materials”.
He provided pictures in what he said were proof of his accusations.
Nehawu spokesperson Khaya Xaba denied Madhi’s accusations, saying union workers conducted themselves in a “disciplined and peaceful manner” during the strike.