The nation-wide strike by National Health Laboratory Services (NHLS) employees, affiliated with the National Education Health and Allied Workers Union (NEHAWU) carried on to its fourth day on Monday morning. Workers staged a protest outside Mahatma Gandhi Memorial Hospital in Phoenix, refusing to work until their demands were met.

Workers outside Mahatma Gandhi Memorial Hospital in Phoenix

Among the workers demands are a salary increase of 7.3 percent, increase of medical aid subsidy and capping by the agreed percentage increase, an urgent implementation of all outstanding issues arising from 2016/2017 settlement agreement, including proficiency assessments, placement progressions and insourcing and a housing allowance of R2 000. The National Health Laboratory Service is the largest diagnostic pathology service in South Africa with the responsibility of supporting the national and provincial health departments in the delivery of healthcare.

An employee at Mahatma Gandhi Memorial Hospital who spoke on the basis of anonymity said, “We would like our employer to meet our annual increase request and other demands we’ve put through, and the timeline given must be realistic and must be met honestly. Our salary currently is not fit for our profession. The services we provide are very essential in the healthcare profession as doctors would be unable to diagnose patients without our services.”

Another employee at the same hospital who requested to remain anonymous said, “There is currently a lot of discrepancies regarding salaries in the department. Many people have not been receiving the right salaries since last year. Upon bringing the matter up, we were told that there was no money to pay us. Going forward, we want the outstanding salary adjustments to be settled and our annual salary demands to be met.”

“My biggest concern is that employees who have been working in the department for many years were promised their salary adjustments from last year yet have still not been brought up to the newer salary scales that every other staff member is on. There’s a lot of unfairness within the department as newer members come in and get everything on the table. Many staff members need their voices to be heard as their attempts of taking the matter up with Human Resource to get what is rightfully theirs has been in vain over the years,” said another employee from Osindisweni Hospital, in Verulam.   

According to NHLS, the KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng Health Departments owe them billions of rands. Laboratory Service’s Shabir Madhi said that if the departments don’t settle their bills, they won’t be able to pay salaries from November.

“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 to ensure the financial viability of the NHLS enable it to continue carrying out its mandate of providing quality laboratory services to the public health sector,” said Madhi.   

At the time of going to press, the workers had accepted a 7.3 percent salary increase but said that other issues had not been resolved.