Labouring in the queue

Over 200 people a day queue outside the Mitchell’s Plain Department of Labour office.

National Covid-19 lockdown restrictions are hampering service delivery at the Department of Labour’s Mitchell’s Plain office in the Town Centre.

While hundreds of people queue outside every day, only 13 people can be accommodated in the office waiting area due to physical distancing protocols.

Candice van Reenen, provincial department spokeswoman, said the elderly, sick and maternity applicants are prioritised, which has always been a department practice.

She said the office was not short-staffed and that officials assisted as many clients as could be accommodated.

Ms Van Reenen said officials performed numerous roles at the labour centre, including queue marshalling, dealing with payments, addressing first-time applicants, telephonic and emailed enquiries and preparing claims for the processing office as well as administrative duties.

“It is a fact that many companies have closed due to Covid-19 and the department is now dealing with an increased number of clients requiring benefits through the Unemployment Insurance Fund.

“We appeal to clients to consider submitting online applications to avoid queuing at the labour centres,” she said.

Ms Van Reenen said queue marshalling was mandatory at all labour centres.

Queue marshalling is the process of filtering through queuing clients to ascertain their needs and the service required.

Mitchell’s Plain labour centre’s queuing system includes a queue for first-time applicants and those returning forms; another queue for payments; and a third queue is for applicants who have not yet received payment, after two months of applying.

The crowd outside the office on Monday November 9 told the Plainsman that only 50 people were attended to a day.

They are told to return on another day if they do not make the cut.

Many people remain standing in the queue, hoping that they would be assisted.

Mitchell’s Plain, Khayelitsha and Philippi residents start queueing at about 2.30am, hoping it will increase their chances of being served.

Pensioner Chris Mapuma, 65, from Khayelitsha, said he does not have money to travel back and forth to the centre.

He has been in and out of the queue since May without any help.

Roeliene January, from Woodlands, said she feared for her life when arriving at the labour department in the early hours of the morning.

“I need to arrive early in order for me to be assisted. I am risking my life for assistance at the labour department,” she said.

Gaynor Olivia Kleinbooi, from Harmony Village near Westgate Mall, said it was not fair that people queue from 4am only to be turned away hours later.

She made her third visit to the centre on Friday November 6 after being retrenched from work during the lockdown. “All we want are answers,” she said.

Ms Kleinbooi said staff did not communicate with the people standing in the queue.

“Every time I go to the department I see familiar faces and people leaving the queue without being assisted,” she said.

The office was closed before noon on Friday after police were called in by officials to deal with unruly clients.

Ms Kleinbooi, however, refuted any misconduct from the frustrated people standing in the queue.

A Mitchell’s Plain woman, who did not want to be named, said she witnessed applicants waiting in the parking lot behind the labour centre, with forms so that they can skip the queue.

“They are told to pay between R300 and R500 for quick assistance so that they can skip the queue. This is unfair. I witnessed the applicants waiting in the parking lot who saw me approaching, the applicants dispersed and did not want to answer my questions,” she said.

Ms Van Reenen said the allegation of “back-yard help” was a serious matter and that corruption would not be tolerated.

“The department i,s however, not aware of any such incident; but we do appeal to clients to follow the correct practice of reporting such matters to the relevant authorities,” she said.

Ms Van Reenen said two men had refused to follow screening protocol and had caused a disruption.

She said they addressed the crowd but they became aggressive and verbally abusive.

The police were called in and advised the centre to close its doors.

“The office has requested regular patrols from SAPS,” she said.

• Online applications may be submitted via www.ufiling.gov.za

Clients may also use this platform to enable continuation of payments.

To report misconduct, call the SAPS anti-corruption hotline on 080 043 4373.