Status of immigration officers still in doubt

Date: 08 Jun 2007
South Africans will be none the wiser today on whether the work done by immigration officers will be regarded as an essential service, making it illegal to strike. Despite an order of the Labour Court requiring the Essential Services Committee (ESC) to make that decision by today, the director of the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration, Nerine Kahn, yesterday said the committee would not be able to meet in time. To avoid being found in contempt of court, the CCMA has appointed legal counsel to argue that the committee could not convene in time, Kahn said. The chief executive of the committee was out of the country and could not be substituted. The earliest the committee could meet was Thursday or Friday next week, Kahn said, and the issue was unlikely to take just a few days. Speaking ahead of her budget speech in parliament, Home Affairs Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula said the department had successfully interdicted immigration officers from participating in the public sector strike, but some were ignoring the court order. Unions had subsequently appealed. However, the minister's department was waiting for a decision from the ESC whether immigration services should be regarded as an essential service. She hoped the committee would be sympathetic, given the potential for instability in the country if immigration officers embarked on a strike, including compromising the security of the state and deterring potential investors. The department's application to the ESC was first made in October last year. The minister said the acting head of the immigration branch had reported that 68% of staff had turned up for work this week. By Janine Stephen & Sibusiso Ngalwa The Star 08/06/07 e2