The National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union (Nehawu) on Tuesday said it was concerned by the remarks made by the parliamentary portfolio committee on home affairs about the use of cellphones by front desk staff during working hours.
Chairperson of the portfolio committee Hlomani Chauke on Monday urged the department to consider an outright ban on cellphone usage by frontline staff during working hours at all home affairs offices.
This was after the committee received numerous complaints from the public about delays at home affairs offices following a video that surfaced on social media showing two officials using cellphones while people waited in a queue at the home affairs offices in Tongaat, KwaZulu-Natal.
The department said that it had launched a probe into the incident, as the use of cellphones by front office officials while performing their duties was prohibited.
In a statement, Nehawu said that the use of cellphones by front-desk staff had been the subject of discussions between labour and the employer in the bargaining chamber in order to ensure it was managed without infringing on the rights of workers, and that this was responsible for delays in service delivery.
Nehawu said that it did not condone the unnecessary use of personal cellphones during working hours, especially if it impeded service delivery, but said it found it unacceptable that the blame for delays in service delivery at home affairs was squarely put on the shoulders of their members and workers. The union said there were a number of unfilled vacant posts across the country.
“It is our strong view that at the centre of the long queues and delayed processes in the offices is the issue of short-staffing and an overworked workforce. The department services over 57 million citizens with a total of 9,100 employees; hence our members are overworked but continue to do their best, including working overtime,” it said.
“The Tongaat office alone has 14 employees servicing areas like Umhlanga, Inanda, Ballito, etc. In actual fact the reason we ended up going to the Labour Court with Home Affairs was because the department wanted the same workers to work until Saturday without compensation.
“We therefore call on the chairperson to desist from discouraging our members and workers who are working hard to render services to the South African public under very difficult conditions and serious staff shortages.”
Nehawu called on the department to focus on the perpetual crisis the union had been highlighting for a very long time and called on Home Affairs Minister Siyabonga Cwele to deal with improving working conditions as a matter of urgency.
The Public Servants Association of South Africa (PSA) condemned as “misplaced and ill-informed” the remarks by Chauke.
– African News Agency (ANA)