The Labour Court has today ruled that the strike action planned by the National Education Health and Allied Workers Union (NEHAWU) at the National Health Laboratory Service (NHLS) is unlawful, not in compliance, and breach of the relevant provisions of the Labour Relations Act.
The Union had planned to go on strike on Tuesday, 25 August, over what it has termed as a breakdown in salary negotiations; failure by the organisation to implement proficiency assessment results; performance management system; filling of vacant positions and provisioning of Personal Protective Equipment.
The NHLS has noted that the issues in dispute, as outlined by NEHAWU, are misleading. To this end, the NHLS wishes to set the record straight as follows:
1. Annual Salary Wage Negotiations
The annual salary wage negotiations are dealt with by the Bargaining Labour Relations Forum (BLRF). NEHAWU demands a salary increase of 11% across the board. In response to NEHAWU demands, the NHLS has offered a zero (0) % salary increase due to the impacted fiscal position and the fact that salary increases will not be sustainable in the long run.
However, the parties are still in discussions and have not reached a deadlock on issues relating to annual salary wage negotiations.
2. Proficiency Assessment
The NHLS approved the implementation of Proficiency results in October 2018, retrospective in September 2018. The proficiency feedback was presented at the Bargaining Labour Relations Forum (BLRF) held on 6 and 7 September 2018. NEHAWU made a specific submission which the NHLS considered. The proficiency threshold was revised lower; consequently, some employees progressed to the next level. The employees were informed of the results, those who were not satisfied with the results appealed to the Appeals Committee. Of 166 employees who appealed, 27 applications were found to have no Portfolio of Evidence (PoE). The 27 files were then referred to the Appeals Committee for review. The NHLS Management has consistently
expressed its willingness to consider and finalise the 27 files if the PoE substantiates them. Regrettably, no PoE has been received to date.
3. Performance Management System
The Union has stated that no performance management system has been implemented. This is not true as the NHLS implemented an effective performance management system between 2018 and 2019. The issue in dispute is that NEHAWU has demanded that performance assessment scores be rounded off to the nearest ten. The NHLS rejected this demand as it would dilute the scoring processes.
4. Provisioning of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
The NHLS adheres to the laboratory operating standards. The staff working in the laboratory environment are required to adhere to biosafety level 2 and biosafety level 4 operating standards. The NHLS has provided adequate personal protective equipment (PPEs) to all its employees. The NHLS adheres to all COVID-19 protocols and health guidelines.
5. Contribution to Pension Fund
The first port of call for labour is to engage the Pension Fund Adjudicator regarding the determination of whether or not the NHLS contributes to the pension fund as this falls under the administration and application of the pension fund rules.
6. Filling of vacant positions
The NHLS continues to fill critical positions core to the business. Since January-August 2020, the NHLS has filled 934 positions, of this number 285 are considered to be vacancies related to the core business, 296 laboratory support staff, 57 registrars, 186 medical students (refer to as medical technology students, medical scientist interns, laboratory assistants, phlebotomists, and biotechnology students), 81 support members while 29 are students on experiential training.
The NHLS plays a major in public health in South Africa through epidemiology, surveillance and outbreak response activities; the national antiretroviral roll-out programme through CD4+ viral load studies and HIV treatment monitoring; tuberculosis diagnosis and treatment monitoring; screening for cervical cancer and support occupational health services.
If the strike is not averted, South Africans will not know the number of COVID-19 infections in the country which could negatively affect the government’s efforts to contain the spread of the pandemic.
The government will have limited or no information regarding where the relevant hotspots for COVID-19 are; private laboratories would not be able to report their COVID-19 infections as required by the relevant Disaster Management Regulations.
The NHLS, through its NICD division, will be unable to compile a guideline document to support surveillance, case finding, diagnosis, management and public health response to cases under investigation. In addition, many South Africans may not be able to get tested for COVID-19, which will have an impact on the epidemic.
The NHLS has put in place contingency measures to ensure service continuity. The NHLS has also engaged private and academic laboratories to assist with diagnostic testing. To this end, the NHLS has put together an essential test list which prioritises testing of the specimens.
For enquiries, please contact:
NHLS Senior Manager: Communication
Tel: 011 386 6008
Mobile: 066 376 3171
About the NHLS
The NHLS 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. The NHLS provides laboratory and related public health services to over 80% of the population through a national network of laboratories. Its activities comprise of diagnostic laboratory services, research, teaching and training, and production of sera for anti-snake venom, reagents and media. For more information, visit www.nhls.ac.za