Pretoria– The Department of Home Affairs has been served with a notice to strike on 19 June by unions representing employees at the department.
The Department of Home Affairs and the unions are set for conciliation on Tuesday at the General Public Service Sector Bargaining Council (GPSSBC), in line with the Constitutional Court’s directive that the dispute be referred for conciliation.
“In light of these developments, the department wishes to advise officials that the status quo remains and that officials are expected to comply with the current opening and closing hours for Civic Services Front Offices,” the department said in a statement.
The department has been engaged in a protracted dispute with the Public Servants Association (PSA), the National Health, Education & Allied Workers Union (Nehawu) and the National Union of Public Service and Allied Workers (Nupsaw) on the issue of implementing new opening and closing hours. The dispute dates as far back as March 2015.
The unions objected to officials working on Saturdays, which, according to them, officials would effectively be required to work for six days a week as opposed to five days.
This, according to the unions, meant extra transport costs for officials spread over six days, to cover Saturdays, and costs incurred towards caring for members’ minor children, as well as leave allocation.
Follow the unions’ demands that the department either compensate employees working on Saturdays or reverting to a system where employees work a five-day week, from Monday to Friday, the department indicated it is not in a financial position to consider and accede to this demand.
Instead, it tabled an alternative settlement proposal in which officials would be granted a day off during the week, on Wednesdays, to ensure that they do not extend their days over 6 days.
In this way, officials would not incur additional transport costs and would be able to make appropriate arrangements for child care like other staff working a five-day shift per week.
The compromise would ensure also that fears around allocation and calculation of leave days would be allayed, with no official affected by whether they did a five-day or six-day shift.
This would further mean that officials would work a full day on a Saturday comprising an eight-hour shift. Officials would still work a total of 40 hours per week, in line with the laws of the Republic.
The unions rejected the department’s offer and instead tabled a further demand that the department suspend the 2015 circular that gave effect to the implementation of the 2015 opening and closing hours, suggesting that officials should be allowed to work on Saturdays albeit on a voluntary basis.
The proposal was not acceptable to the department, as it would pose serious challenges for proper planning, work scheduling and accountability, and would also compromise service delivery which the public has become accustomed to.
The department’s offer of a day off for a Saturday worked would be similar to the arrangement made in 2010-2014 in terms of which a day off was granted for Saturday work.
The only exception, however, was that in the previous dispensation, officials would be allowed to take any day of the week.
“That dispensation presented serious challenges to the administration of the Department in that officials tended to take different days in the week which resulted in the Department perpetually operating on limited personnel.
“The proposal tabled by the department today, that officials be granted Wednesday off, was intended to cure that challenge,” the department said.