Home Affairs loses fight for compulsory weekend shifts

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The government has given in to labour and reversed its compulsory weekend shift system at Home Affairs.

Home affairs trucks service members of the public outside the Department of Home Affairs building in the East London city centre Picture: MADELEINE CHAPUT ©DAILY DISPATCH

This follows a lengthy battle between the department and trade unions, which included a Constitutional Court challenge of the directive it issued, forcing employees to report for work on weekends.

An agreement reached by the parties on Thursday has also averted planned strike action at Home Affairs offices across the country.

The disputed unilateral directive was issued in 2014, when Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba was Home Affairs minister.

Public Service and Administration Minister Faith Muthambi and Home Affairs Minister Dr Hlengiwe Mkhizwe withdrew the directive with immediate effect after marathon talks with labour.

The parties have also committed to further talks about Home Affairs’ working hours in the departmental bargaining council.

In a joint statement issued by the trade unions and employers through the General Public Service Sectoral Bargaining Council on Saturday, the agreement stipulated that operations would return to conditions that prevailed prior to the implementation of the circular, including voluntary work on Saturday.

The meeting was also one of the first interactions between labour representatives and Muthambi in the bargaining council.

Just after she was appointed minister, big public sector trade unions such as the SA Democratic Teachers’ Union criticised her, saying the president’s decision defied all logic and was ill-informed because of her record as communications minister.

Should trade unions not be happy with the conclusion reached in the renewed talks about the shift system, another strike threat could be on the cards.

At the time of its implementation, Home Affairs motivated that the new shifts would improve service delivery to the public if offices were kept open for longer during the weekend and that was why they had fought for it all the way to the highest court in the land. The National Health, Education and Allied Workers Union said the matter could have been concluded earlier had it not been for the “arrogance and intransigence” of some in Home Affairs.

The Public Service Association (PSA), which represents more than 75% of Home Affairs staff, also said the department could have handled the matter better.

Instead, it had opted for protracted fruitless litigation up to Constitutional Court level at the expense of taxpayers, the PSA’s Ivan Fredericks said.

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