The National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union (Nehawu) announced at a press conference on Monday its programme of action and details of its nationwide strike action at the SA Social Security Agency (Sassa), which is set to commence on Wednesday.
The union said the strike came as a result of the refusal by Sassa management to resolve challenges brought about by the migration of the social grant payment system from Cash Paymaster Services (CPS) to the South African Post Office (Sapo).
These challenges included the introduction of the biometric enrolment of beneficiaries and staff, the grant business process and alleged Socpen (social pensions) fraud, the union said in a statement.
“It has been our understanding that the strike remains a last resort after exhausting all available avenues, including seeking an intervention from the minister of social development, Honourable Susan Shabangu,” Nehawu general secretary Zola Saphetha said.
“Our intention has been consistently resolving issues amicably during negotiations, but the intransigence and arrogance of the Sassa management resulted in one option, the total shutdown of all Sassa workplaces.”
The union is demanding the suspension of the biometric enrolment of beneficiaries, prioritisation of the consultation on the biometric enrolment of beneficiaries, jobs evaluation in grant administration, and the option of the inclusion of biometric enrolment of beneficiaries in the KPAs of specific employees to perform this function.
Saphetha said the reasons behind the strike included that Nehawu had been calling for security improvements on the pensions system since 2014 as result of fraud. Saphetha said the system currently in use had a number of flaws, which put beneficiaries as well as workers at risk.
He said many beneficiaries had not been paid or taken through the migration process.
The system presented to workers was meant to protect them from Socpen fraud, Saphetha said.
“Workers continue to access Socpen the very same way they did before and it is still a very vulnerable system to fraud and hackers,” Saphetha said.
He said there was a huge shortage of biometric enrolment equipment in rural areas, which led to delayed services.
Saphetha said the system did not cater for workers living with disabilities and that it allowed more than one worker to log in using one user identity and credentials.
The system also effected and blocked payments to beneficiaries because it failed to generate PIN codes due to technical glitches, Saphetha said.
“An override function is not built into the system, which means the system cannot be legally used to assist beneficiaries who for one reason or the other do not have fingers,” Saphetha said.
He said because of the system’s errors, Sassa had resorted to forcing workers to bypass the system in violation of Socpen rules, which was also a violation of the terms of employment.
“Workers are caught between violating Socpen rules by bypassing the system and not being able to bypass the system. They are then unable to perform the rest of the grant administration functions.
“This poses a risk to both workers and the credibility of the social grant system, which renders the system useless,” Saphetha said.
He said the system constantly rejected the identification of fingerprints of beneficiaries who were then sent to Home Affairs.
These challenges have frustrated workers and beneficiaries in particular who have mobilised themselves and held Sassa workers hostage in Maponya Mall, Soshanguve and Orange Farm offices, among others.
“Nehawu shall not tolerate the careless handling of this matter hence it has taken a decision to pick a fight with the Sassa management. This fight is on behalf of all the beneficiaries, not only selfishly about our members and workers in general, hence we call upon all South Africans to join our envisaged full-blown strike until all the demands are met.
“At this point, we humbly appeal to beneficiaries who have been victims of the shoddy work of Sassa to come forth and raise their frustrations with us. Once more, we call on all communities to support our strike action as this action is meant to protect the sustenance of the 17 million beneficiaries who rely on Sassa for grants and also building a caring government of the people.”