The home affairs department has clashed with unions over its attempts to get staff to work on Saturdays.. Picture: FINANCIAL MAIL
The home affairs department has clashed with unions over its attempts to get staff to work on Saturdays.. Picture: FINANCIAL MAIL

The department of home affairs plans to introduce new laws to strengthen its hand in getting its staff to work shifts, a move likely to run into stiff opposition from labour unions.

The department has previously clashed with unions over its attempts to get staff to work on Saturdays. It hopes to get around the issue by introducing measures in a new Home Affairs Act that will enable it to employ staff outside the confines of the Public Service Act, acting director-general Thulani Mavuso said on Sunday.

“We want our offices to open seven days a week, so we need to be able to create a shift system that is in line with our legislation. We want our immigration officers to be employed as shift employees so they can operate 27/7 ,” he said in a telephone interview.

The department also wants to be able to pay market-related rates for highly specialised skills, particularly in information technology, said Mavuso. The Public Service Act sets limits on the pay packet of every level of employee, from cleaners to directors-general.

Employees of the department of correctional services and the SA Police Service fall outside the act, and are expected to work shifts, said Mavuso.

The policy groundwork for the Home Affairs Act is laid out in the Home Affairs White Paper, which was published in the government gazette on Friday. However, it does not raise the labour issues highlighted by Mavuso. The white paper also proposes a National Identity System (NIS) Act, which will govern a new national identity system to replace the national population register.

The NIS will incorporate the national population register, as well as data held on the immigration and refugee status of individuals.

“In a digital age, the NIS will be the backbone of a more integrated modern state that provides citizens and other clients fast access to efficient services,” home affairs minister Siyabonga Cwele said in a statement on Sunday. “It will thus be a powerful enabler of inclusive economic development and will drastically reduce fraud and other related crimes.”

Interested parties have until February 18 to make submissions on the white paper. Mavuso said the department had released a discussion document on repositioning home affairs in May 2017, and thus considered a month sufficient time for public comments.

The white paper sets out the policy framework for a “new and modernised” home affairs and aims to put an end to the long queues at its front offices, staff shortages and poor infrastructure, said Cwele.

The white paper incorporates the department’s controversial 2017 White Paper on International Migration, which proposed delinking residency and citizenship, along with the introduction of long-term visas based on a points system.

It also proposed establishing processing centres for asylum seekers at SA’s ports of entry.

The new white paper says processing centres would provide for asylum seekers’ needs and the migrants would therefore not have to work. “The courts have granted asylum seekers the right to work because no provision is made for their basic sustenance. This has led to the asylum system providing irregular migrants with access to de facto work permits, though they do not qualify under the Immigration Act,” it says. 

“Migration can be a powerful driver of domestic and regional development, but this requires a state that has efficient systems, professional staff and the capacity to enforce its immigration laws,” said the minister.

Cwele said the department of home affairs’ extended office hours between January 2-11 had been a success and had provided reassurance that its front offices would manage next weekend’s voter registration drive, which is expected to lead to a surge in people applying for identity documents.

During the extended hours period, 116,404 citizens visited the offices. The majority of these visits (88,328) were for applications for smart ID cards and passports.

Cwele appealed to citizens to collect  the 297,000 IDs from where they had applied for them.

The department recorded a marginal increase in travellers to and from SA between December 1 and January 15, said Cwele. 

During this period, there were 6.85-million movements across SA’s ports of entry, compared to 6.81-million in 2018, he said.

Most of the visitors were from Lesotho, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Swaziland, Botswana, the UK, Germany, the US, Namibia and Zambia, he said.

kahnt@businesslive.co.za