Dispute over working hours at Home Affairs threatens national shutdown

This could be the note greeting people making their way to home affairs offices across the country if a labour dispute isn’t solved quickly. Picture: Lehlohonolo Belebesi
This could be the note greeting people making their way to home affairs offices across the country if a labour dispute isn’t solved quickly. Picture: Lehlohonolo Belebesi

Home affairs employees are going to go on strike if the department insists on making them work on Saturday without paying them overtime.

The Public Servants Association, which represents a majority of the department’s employees (75%), served the department with a notice to strike yesterday after a “conciliation of a long-standing dispute on working hours” failed yesterday.

The department has been given 10 days to review their policy on employee working hours, after which employees will engage in strike action, beginning on June 19.

A conciliation hearing was held yesterday after the ongoing dispute between the department and unions including the PSA, Nehawu and National Union of Public Service and Allied Workers failed to reach an agreement over the implementation of new opening and closing working hours.

One of the main disputes which workers have brought forward is that working on Saturdays needs to include overtime pay, a demand which the department cannot concede to at this point due to financial constraints.

Speaking to City Press, department of home affairs director-general Mkuseli Apleni said that it has become “unsustainable” to pay workers overtime, hence the new proposed working hours.

“We previously had a system in place where workers would get paid overtime for the Saturdays they worked.

"However financially that has just become unsustainable, and as such we proposed for them to get a Wednesday off during the week and still work a Saturday, which would mean that their work week would still only be five days or 40 hours,” Apleni said.

Home Affairs employees rejected this offer.

“The department’s proposal unfortunately still did not consider the impact that working on a Saturday will have on workers, especially women.

"Challenges include the lack of child-care facilities on a Saturday and the lack of safe transport.

"The enforcement of Saturday work also infringes on the Constitutional right of workers to freely practice their religion on a Saturday,” Tahir Maepa, acting assistant general manager of the PSA said.

According to Khaya Xaba, national spokesperson of Nehawu, they were still consulting about the proposed strike action.

“We are not trying to exploit anyone. The rights that I am fighting for are that of the citizens to get services on a Saturday. We are not asking anyone to work overtime without compensation.

"As it stands if someone works overtime they do get paid. But their demands to work a five-day week and then get paid overtime on a Saturday is not a viable option for the department,” Apleni told City Press.

The department of home affairs provides important services to the public, such as the issuing of birth, marriage and death certificates as well as travel and passport documentation.

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