Home Affairs minister Aaron Motsoaledi says that unions have taken his department’s plans to cut long queues at home affairs offices across the country to the negotiation table – effectively putting them on ice.
Responding to a parliamentary Q&A this week, the minister lamented a drop in service levels at home affairs offices after extended operating hours over weekends were dropped.
When asked why Saturday operating hours had ceased, Motsoaledi blamed unions. “The department desperately wants Home Affairs offices to open on Saturdays. The type of services rendered by Home Affairs offices fall in the same category as services rendered by Police Services and Clinics,” he said.
“Unfortunately, the unions took the matter to the Public Service Coordinating Bargaining Council (PSCBC) and made it a subject of negotiations. It ended in a stalemate.”
The minister said that the intention was for Saturday working hours to be conducted through the shift system in the same way police and nurses work.
“However, the unions insist on deploying the same people who work during the week hours, but paying them overtime. Should we agree, the department will be forced into paying overtime for life, or permanent overtime – and this is untenable,” said the minister.
He said the department has submitted to Cabinet a Home Affairs Bill which will change the nature of the Department of Home Affairs into a security department entitled to open on weekends.
Motsoaledi said that the department has been negatively impacted without being able to operate on a Saturday. “Ironically, I believe this (worse service) affects members of unions the most,” he said.
While the department’s plans to operate over weekends are now on ice until union negotiations have played out, the minister said other interventions are working. Last week (13 May), Motsoaledi said that the Branch Appointment Booking System being piloted at select branches is yielding positive results, allowing South Africans to bypass long queues.
“Clients are serviced within the timeslot booked and confirmed, and the offices are able to plan for those who have booked the day prior to the scheduled appointments,” he said.
The system is currently being trialled in select high-volume offices and has been integrated with the national population register to allow clients to use their ID numbers to book a slot. This prevents agents illegally operating in home affairs offices from blocking slots to sell them on.
This includes options to book an appointment at a specific home affairs office in each province and an expected start and end time.
Motsoaledi previously said the Branch Appointment Booking System would be piloted at some live capture offices for Smart ID Card and Passports applications and the collections of both documents during the 2021/22 financial year.
He added that the system would be rolled out to other identified high-volume offices, however, he did not provide a timeframe.