MEMBERS of the National Education Health and Allied Workers’ Union (Nehawu) in Harry Gwala protested peacefully outside Edendale Hospital on Wednesday, July 26 as part of a nationwide strike at the National Health Laboratory Service (NHLS).Nehawu Harry Gwala regional secretary Zimasile Giyama said the strike is as a result of the collapse of negotiations between workers and the employer.He said the union is demanding a 7.3% salary increase, but the employer’s offer is below the inflation rate. Giyama said other demands made by the union include a housing allowance, a danger allowance since employees are at the risk of being infected, a rural allowance for certain categories, a night shift allowance because employees are away from their families at crucial times.“The union has made very meagre and modest demands, but the employer is not willing to come to the party, which is why negotiations have collapsed,” he said.He said union members were also protesting outside Grace, Northdale, Richmond and Mbalenhle hospitals.The protests mean the closure of the NHLS, blood testing services will not be operational, and patients will have to wait longer for their blood test results.Giyama said the strike will continue “until the employer comes to his senses”. On Tuesday, August 1 the union consulted its members on the revised offer from the employer, said Gwala.Gwala said members are willing to settle for the 7.3% increase as long as it comes with a R2 000 housing allowance and danger and night shift allowances.Gwala said union members from the laboratories in Edendale, Grace and Northdale hospitals gathered at Northdale Hospital because the strike is ongoing. In a statement issued by the NHLS on Tuesday, acting Chief Executive Officer, Professor Shabir Madhi said the entity’s management is encouraged that the union is considering the revised offer.He said in the wake of the strike, however, the NHLS has outsourced emergency tests to private laboratories.“The outsourcing of services is being done as a last resort to provide service on behalf of those laboratories that have been completely shut down due to intimidation of non-striking staff. “This outsourcing of services to the private laboratories could be avoided if non-striking workers were afforded the opportunity to exercise their right to work without being intimidated. “In some instances this is being compounded by vandalism of NHLS laboratories, hence the need for the NHLS to spend money on obtaining a court interdict against the striking workers and for the hire of private security,” he said.Madhi dismissed as “fabrication” claims that the entity’s board and management hold a financial interest in the private laboratories being used as a contingency plan.He said the private laboratories are being outsourced at negotiated subsided rates, dismissing the union’s claim that the outsourcing is done at exorbitant costs.“There will nevertheless be a once-off cost that the NHLS will need to recover,” Madhi said.He said the NHLS appreciates that Nehawu and other unions continue to engage with the entity on finding a solution to the strike action.“The current offer of a 7.3% salary increase, which exceeds the inflation rate, and correct planning of implementation of proficiency assessment of eligible staff and phasing in of in-sourcing of support staff is the best the NHLS can commit to without further undermining the financial and governance viability of the organisation,” Madhi said.