Thursday, 8 June 2017
It is with deep concern that we announce to the nation that the Department of Home Affairs was served with a notice to strike over working hours for front offices. These offices receive and process requests for various services from citizens and other clients.
The notice to strike was received from unions on Tuesday 6 June, subsequent to the regrettable failure of conciliation, which was meant to resolve the dispute, especially over provision of services to citizens on Saturdays. The D-day for the strike is Monday 19 June 2017.
It should be noted, Saturday work was implemented since 2004. Between 2004 and 2010, we paid overtime which was not sustainable. From 2010 to 2014, a day-off was granted for Saturday work, with officials allowed to take a day-off on any day of the week. That dispensation posed serious challenges. Officials tended to take different days in the week resulting in the department perpetually operating on limited personnel.
The proposal we tabled at conciliation, that officials be granted a day-off on Wednesdays for every Saturday worked, was intended to cure this challenge of limited personnel. We are not in a financial position to consider and accede to the demand for overtime pay. Thus, we presented the alternative settlement proposal, for officials to receive a day off on Wednesdays, so that they do not work for 6 days a week, and remain within 40 hours.
If this strike is to take place, it would interrupt mandatory services Home Affairs provides to citizens as enjoined by the Constitution of the Republic. Thus, as Home Affairs, we are deeply concerned by threats of a labour strike, ahead of one of our busiest periods in the year, that is, the school winter holidays. Ahead of the holidays, the number of client requests for travel documents shoots up as families prepare for the long break.
Right up to conciliation, we acted consistently within the confines of the law. The Head of Department is authorised to determine employees’ working hours in terms of Regulation B/VI/1 of the Public Service Regulations, 2001.
In determining employees’ working hours, the Head of the Department is required to take into account the following provisions:
- The Basic Conditions of Employment Act, 1997, which stipulates that ordinary hours of work can be spread over 5 or 6 days on a 40 hour work week, and 6 to 7 days on a 45 hour work week.
- The Code of Good Practice on the Arrangement of Working Time, issued in terms of the Basic Conditions of Employment Act.
We acted accordingly. Even when we proposed adjusting the shift system, to accommodate those without time on week days, we consulted with unions and officials. We communicated clearly our intention to stay within the prescribed 40-hour week.
Our people have no alternative for Home Affairs services. Therefore there is a need for us to find a speedy and amicable solution, ensuring we become even more relevant, accessible and responsive to the needs of the people.
The 6 June conciliation was at the General Public Service Sector Bargaining Council pursuant to the Constitutional Court’s directive that the dispute be referred for conciliation.
As we seek a solution, the status quo would remain. Officials are expected to comply with the current opening and closing hours, including service provision on Saturday. We are doing all in our power to avert disruptions of service delivery.
If all fails, we reserve our rights particularly to act responsibly, in the interest of citizens. The needs and aspirations of citizens define our very existence as public servants. They deserve better.
We shall not intimidate anyone, and have not, in this entire process, intimidated anyone, as alleged by unions. Neither will we be found wanting on labour rights and protection of all officials, those who are unionised and those who are not unionised, with all their rights and choices protected as per laws of our democratic country.
All we ask is for reason to prevail, for responsible conduct to guide all actions, ensuring the public and all of our citizens do not lose confidence in our services.
For more information, please contact:
ISSUED BY THE DEPARTMENT OF HOME AFFAIRS ON 8 JUNE 2017