Union takes issue with SASSA biometrics

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NEHAWU and SASSA are at odds over biometric enrolment of social grant beneficiaries.
NEHAWU and SASSA are at odds over biometric enrolment of social grant beneficiaries.

The National Education, Health and Allied Workers' Union (NEHAWU) has slammed the South African Social Security Agency (SASSA) for how it has handled the biometric enrolment of beneficiaries onto a new system.

Yesterday, NEHAWU announced it is preparing and mobilising for a complete shutdown of all SASSA offices across the country on 10 October.

In a statement, NEHAWU reveals it has taken issue with the fact that its members were misled about plans concerning the new biometric system. The labour organisation says members were expecting to be trained in the new biometric identity access and management for staff; instead, workers were trained to perform biometric enrolment for beneficiaries.

It adds that biometric enrolment is not part of the job description of workers, which is why they don't get remunerated for performing it, nor is it part of 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 log in using the same user identity and user credentials, leading to fraudulent activities."

SASSA, however, has rubbished NEHAWU's claims, saying the affected staff members were provided with training to enable them to perform the function.

"It is also important to clarify that the biometric enrolment referred to is not a new function. This was previously done manually as part of the application process, where ink and a pad was used and the beneficiary's fingerprint put on paper. When SASSA entered into a contract with CPS [Cash Paymaster Services] in 2012, the ink, pad and paper were replaced with digital capturing, called biometric enrolment, and SASSA discontinued the manual process as this would be a duplicate process.

"Also, in its first report to the Constitutional Court in June 2017, SASSA reported it would take over the biometric enrolment from CPS. This was later communicated to organised labour before the staff training commenced."

SAPO prioritises biometrics

On taking over the grants payments function, the South African Post Office (SAPO) and the agency both stressed the importance of biometrics as key to getting the social grants payments process right.

In the past, SASSA promised to improve its own internal biometric payment system to curb unauthorised deductions from the accounts of already cash-strapped recipients.

Net1 UEPS Technologies, parent company of CPS, previously stated it saves the South African government R2 billion per annum through the identification and removal of fraudulent beneficiaries.

In May, it was announced that SAPO has deployed the services of a locally based biometrics firm to identify the rightful social grant recipients.

Fides Cloud Technologies, in partnership with Magix Africa, is providing multi-modal authentication software to biometrically verify SASSA beneficiaries at 4 500 SAPO branches.

SASSA says it is disappointed with NEHAWU for its intended strike action in protest of biometric enrolment of beneficiaries.

Abram Mahlangu, SASSA's acting CEO, says: "It is unfortunate that NEHAWU should be resorting to a strike action, because SASSA has been in talks with NEHAWU regarding its grievances relating to the level of training on biometric enrolment provided to staff.

"SASSA went to an extent of rescinding all disciplinary processes against employees who refuse to perform the biometric function pending engagements with NEHAWU.

"Thus far, an agreement has been reached to provide additional training to employees who so wish, to enable themselves to perform this critical function," he adds.

Mahlangu notes SASSA has also committed to commencing with the process to re-evaluate the whole grants value chain. He says the process includes re-evaluating the biometric enrolment function itself and determining its impact on staff.

"As SASSA, we call upon NEHAWU to resume engagements with us so we can find an amicable way of resolving any outstanding issues regarding biometrics, so we can continue to provide our beneficiaries with the excellent level of service that SASSA is renowned for."

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