The National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union [NEHAWU] is at the advanced stage of preparing and mobilising for a full blown strike in the South African Social Security Agency [SASSA]. The strike is set to commence on the 10th October 2018 in all SASSA workplaces across the country.
The strike comes as a result of the refusal by the SASSA management to resolve the 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 include the introduction of Biometric Enrolment of beneficiaries and staff, Grant Business process and SOCPEN fraud.
After numerous attempts by NEHAWU to avert the strike and followed by a nationwide consultation process of all our members we have come to a conclusion that, given the inability to resolve the impasse between NEHAWU and SASSA in the boardroom, picket lines are the necessary way to go in trying to twist the arm of employer in order to concede to our demands. Indeed, 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. Hence our intention has been consistently resolve issues amicably during negotiations but the intransigence and arrogance of the SASSA management resulted into one option, the total shutdown of all SASSA workplaces.
On the 5th October 2018, the union convened its national SASSA bargaining forum that consolidated the form and content of its national programme of action. This meeting took a decision that as of today and tomorrow our members will be engaged in different form of activities in all centres as a mop up programme and build-up programme towards the full blown strike scheduled to commence as from the 10th October 2018. On Wednesday the total shutdown will begin which shall halt all SASSA operations until our demands are fully met.
For us this is fight we are not prepared to lose because we are waging it not only on behalf of our members and workers in general but mostly on behalf of the most vulnerable section of our society who rely squarely on SASSA for livelihood. In this regard, NEHAWU is prepared to wage a relentless war against SASSA until they desist from undermining workers and the 17 million beneficiaries.
The leadership of the union has met the Secretariat of the SACP this morning and is also intending to raise the issue of its strike to COSATU Special CEC starting from today for purposes of appraising them as left axis on this threat to the living of grant beneficiaries which constitute an integral part of the working class including the working conditions of our members and workers in general. We are also intending to meet with our sister union, the Communications Workers’ Union [CWU] which is organising in the South African Post Office [SAPO] on the threat to grant beneficiaries which potentially will affect their members too.
The process of engaging SASSA came to a deadlock on the 20th September 2018 where SASSA management made it clear that they are not willing to accede to our reasonable demands which are as follows:
- Biometric Enrolment of beneficiaries to be suspended
- Consultation on Biometric Enrolment of Beneficiaries to be prioritized
- Job evaluation in the grants administration to be undertaken
- The option of inclusion of the biometric enrolment in the KPA’s of the specific employees to perform this function, subject to the Job Evaluation results.
Below are the reasons why we have decided to embark on a full blown strike at SASSA:
Biometric enrolment of beneficiaries
NEHAWU has been advocating for security improvements on the Social Pensions [SOCPEN] system since 2014 as a result of SOCPEN fraud. On the 31st October 2017 the employer as a response to that demand presented the biometric identity access and management for staff. Workers demanded a more detailed project plan related to the new system the employer was introducing. To our surprise, when the employer took workers to the training for the system, workers were trained to perform biometric enrolment for beneficiaries instead of biometric identity access and management for staff as initially presented to workers by SASSA management.
This has resulted into unhappiness and anxiety amongst workers simply because the biometric enrolment for beneficiaries is a new function that workers were not consulted on and the employer implemented it unilaterally. The system has numerous flaws which is at the detriment of beneficiaries who rely on social grants for existence and workers too.
The union has been at the forefront in raising concerns about the biometric system and continuously warned SASSA of the huge impact it will have on the 17 million beneficiaries. As it stands, many beneficiaries have not been paid their social grants or taken through the process of transition and the migration from CPS to SAPO. This is attributed by the challenges and experiences brought about by the invalid CPS contract which has subjected beneficiaries through its subsidiary company, Net1, to illegal deductions related to loans through the Grindrod Card.
Challenges of the biometric enrolment system
The system as presented to workers was meant to protect them from SOCPEN fraud and any other SASSA related systems that workers operate under has up to date failed dismally to yield the desired results. Workers continue to access SOCPEN the very same way they did before and it is still a very vulnerable system to fraud and hackers. The biometric system has no norms and standards for workers to be evaluated on.
Biometric enrolment is not part of the job description of workers hence workers don’t get remunerated for performing it nor is it part the SASSA grant administration business process. In rural areas there is a huge shortage of the biometric enrolment equipment leading to delays in the servicing of beneficiaries. The system does not cater for workers living with disabilities because the system requires a worker who has full physical ability to successfully perform the function in assisting the beneficiary. It also allows more than one person to login using the same user identity and user credentials leading to fraudulent activities.
The system also affects and blocks payments to beneficiaries because it fails to generate pin codes due to technical glitches. 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. Because of the system errors, the employer has resorted to force workers to bypass the system which is a violation of SOCPEN rules and in turn a violation of the terms of employment conditions. Workers are then caught between violating SOCPEN rules by bypassing the system, and by 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 in averting the capturing of ghost beneficiaries. The system frequently rejects the identification of finger prints of beneficiaries and subjects them to be sent to home affairs which elongates the enrolment system. The legal team of NEHAWU is currently in the process of filing an interdict against the instruction by the Acting CEO to bypass biometric enrolment of beneficiaries.
All of the above challenges have led into frustration particularly to the 17 million beneficiaries made up of pensioners, people with disabilities, children and the most vulnerable sector of the South African society and at worst SASSA does not seem to care about their sustenance as an agency tasked with the imperative task of administering the grants. As a result of this frustration by the inconvenience brought by the biometric enrolment system and lack of honest communication by SASSA regarding the transition from CPS to SAPO, beneficiaries have mobilised themselves against SASSA workers by holding hostage workers in Maponya Mall, Soshanguve NAFCOC, Orange Farm and Chiawelo local offices.
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.
Issued by NEHAWU Secretariat
Zola Saphetha (General Secretary) at 082 558 5968; December Mavuso (Deputy General Secretary) at 082 558 5969; Khaya Xaba (NEHAWU Media Liaison Officer) at 082 455 2500 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org