The strike began last Wednesday, with workers at laboratories around the country stopping work. This has caused a massive delay in the processing of medical tests and forced the NHLS to make use of private laboratories for urgent work.

This has now added to the NHLS’s serious financial problems. The NHLS is owed billions by provincial health departments who have not been paying what they owe for laboratory work for years.

Nehawu announced on Tuesday that they had decided to call off the strike pending the finalisation of a settlement agreement with the NHLS, expected to be reached today.

‘Extensive consultations’

The decision was taken following the extensive consultations with members on the revised offer tabled by NHLS management last Friday.

“The union has urgently asked for a meeting with NHLS management for purposes of settlement,” said Khaya Xaba, spokesperson for Nehawu.

“As Nehawu, we would like to commend our members for remaining disciplined and resolute in picket lines as they fought for a living wage and better working conditions,” Nehawu said in a statement.

“We applaud the tenacity with which they confronted the intransigence of the employer coupled with a court interdict meant to discourage them,” said Xaba.

Nehawu continues to call for the NHLS to be brought back into the Public Service.

According to Nehawu, the current funding model of the NHLS is unworkable and is resulting in financial strain, maladministration and corruption.

The Treatment Action Campaign and Section 27 are also worried about the situation at the NHLS. A joint statement released by the two organisations on Tuesday stated that the current crisis at the NHLS is the culmination of ongoing upheavals, mismanagement, corruption, massive bleeding of competent staff and an inability to protect this national asset.

NHLS employees had all returned to work today while the union is meeting with the employer to discuss other demands that were not met during negotiations.

‘Drawn attention’

The TAC and Section27 have for a long time drawn attention to the challenges at the NHLS and the urgent need to address it.

 “We commend Health Minister Dr Aaron Motsoaledi and Director-General Precious Matsoso for their efforts to intervene,” they said.

 The organisations gave their support to the NHLS employees in their quest for a reasonable salary increase and improved working conditions.

“We commend them for exposing corruption and call for an urgent investigation into allegations made by Nehawu and others,” said TAC and Section27.

Section27 and TAC have offered to meet with Nehawu leadership to explore ways of strengthening the NHLS and ensuring proper working conditions for all employees.

 The organisations warned that although the strike may be over, the crisis at the NHLS continues, as the service faces “a debt crisis that makes Eskom pale in comparison”.

“We are informed that the NHLS may run out of money by November.”

Xaba said NHLS employees had all returned to work today while the union is meeting with the employer to discuss other demands that were not met during negotiations.

“The meeting will go ahead to finalise other outstanding issues,” said Xaba.

An edited version of this story appeared on Health24.