HR challenges affecting the filling of posts: DEL briefing

This premium content has been made freely available

Employment and Labour

30 November 2022
Chairperson: Ms M Dunjwa (ANC)
Share this page:

Meeting Summary

The Portfolio Committee met on a virtual platform with the executive authority and accounting officer of the Department of Employment and Labour (DEL) on human resources (HR) challenges affecting the filling of posts. The vacancy rate declined gradually over the period between April and November. The Department was committed to improving its vacancy rate and ensuring adherence to the standard operating procedure in recruitment and selection.

Committee Members were concerned about the prolonged period of posts remaining vacant, with some spanning over 12 months. They asked the DEL to explain the delay in addressing these challenges and the failure to implement proactive measures in cases of posts that would become vacant in cases of retirement and resignations. They asserted that the vacant posts were a matter of incompetence on the part of the DEL, and that its HR challenges must be addressed urgently. As the department responsible for employment and labour, the DEL should lead by example.

Members asked the DEL to submit a detailed report providing a breakdown of the vacant posts in terms of levels, an outline of the challenges within the recruitment panels, and the reason for the high vacancy rate at the Compensation Fund. All heads of departments should be present in meetings with the Committee to respond to specific issues as required. The issue of vacant posts would be a priority for the Department and the Committee. The DEL was asked to submit an updated report for presentation to the Committee at the beginning of 2023.

Meeting report

HR challenges affecting the filling of posts

Mr Thobile Lamati, Director-General (DG), Department of Employment and Labour (DEL), and Ms Bahumi Matebesi, Deputy Director-General (DDG): Corporate Services, DEL, presented an outline of the Department's infrastructure. They said its corporate services provided support to the different units within the Department. This ensured the smooth delivery of services to external clients by equipping the core business with all types of support services -- for example, human resources (HR), tools of the trade, and other administrative services.

The DEL required its HR unit to deliver services and ensure sufficient capacity to run the Department's units. This was done through a transparent and fair process defined and guided by the Department of Public Service and Administration (DPSA) prescripts. The process was described to the Committee

For human resources management (HRM) to start the recruitment and selection process for any vacant post, the responsible manager must send a formal request to the HRM division of that office. If the post was in a province, it would be sent to the provincial HRM, and at head office for a similar process. The HRM division would then confirm the existence of the post and ensure that the post was funded.

If it was a new post or had just been vacated, it was a standard procedure to check whether it was still in existence and funded. There were certain instances where managers were allowed to abolish a post to create a new one due to changing needs in the unit. After the above had been confirmed, the post would be sent to the DPSA for advertising for three weeks.

Once the post had been closed for applications, the HRM unit continued capturing the applications electronically, but only those submitted within the closing date. Most applications were submitted on the last day, and this increased the volume and determined the date of completing the capturing of the applications.
While the capturing process was underway, the HRM unit would request the nomination and appointment of a reconstruction and stabilisation (R&S) panel by a delegated authority. Depending on the delegation of authority as approved by the Minister, this could be the head of a province or unit, a DDG or the DG.

Once the panel members had been appointed, they would be notified by the HRM, and the panel chairperson was requested to provide a date for the short-listing. The panel would then sit for the short-listing process on the agreed date by all members, and the HRM would sit in the meeting to provide technical advice and support, as well taking minutes of the meeting.

Once the panel had completed the short-listing, HRM would then prepare and submit a request to the delegated authority to approve the short-listed candidates. On receipt of the approval of the short-listed candidates, the HRM then sends the names to security for screening, which involves information communication technology (ITC) records, criminal records and qualifications.

The HRM unit then requests a date for interviews from the chairperson of the panel. It notifies the candidates, giving them five days' notice to prepare for the interviews. Once the interviews had been conducted and the selection panel had made an appointment of the preferred candidate (with a second best where appropriate), the HRM prepares yet another submission to the delegated authority to approve the appointment and sign off the letter of appointment, and regret letters for those who were not successful.

If it was a lower-level post, the candidate would be given a letter of appointment. Usually, they served one month before starting the new job, and even internal candidates must wind down in their old post before assuming an appointment to the new post.

If the post was on the senior management service (SMS) level, the HRM unit would start procuring a service provider through supply chain management (SCM) to conduct a competency assessment of the selected candidate. Depending on the availability of dates, the candidate would then be informed by HRM when they were expected to attend the test. At this stage, the candidates still needed to be informed whether they had been successful, awaiting the competency assessment results. The HRM unit would prepare another submission to the delegated authority to approve the candidate's appointment, with an attachment of the results from the competency assessment and other relevant documents necessary to guide the decision by the delegated authority to appoint.

The presentation outlined the structure of the DEL branches, which embodied Corporate Services, Inspection and Enforcement Services, Public Employment Services (PES), and Labour Policy and Industrial Relations.

The Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) and the Compensation Fund (CF) were part of the DEL, as all the officials within the two funds were considered and classified as employees of the DEL. However, the funding of the UIF and CF posts was not done through the National Revenue Fund, so the advice of National Treasury (NT) was that when the DEL reports on the vacancy rate, the UIF and CF should be excluded, but could be reported on separately for other purposes. Posts 100% funded by the UIF and CF at the head office and in the provinces were excluded. The quarterly report on the annual performance plan (APP) excluded these two funds for the abovementioned reasons.

The DEL had nine provincial offices, which serviced a total of 125 labour centres across the country. The recruitment and selection process was a decentralised function, so the chief directors: provincial office (CDPOs) were responsible for the R&S process within their control area, as they also had their own HRM units, while the headquarter HRM serviced all the head office branches. The UIF and CF head offices had their own fully-fledged HRM units, with support for human resources. All the branches of the DEL were present in all the labour centres and the provincial offices. The provincial office acts as the headquarters of the province and provides oversight roles at the provincial level, including recruitment and selection process support.

The DEL listed the current policies and systems that guide recruitment and selection processes. The policies and systems were as follows:

The R&S processes were governed by the Department's DPSA prescripts and internal policies, which were also aligned with the over-arching Department of Public Service and Administration (DPSA) Act and the public service regulations.
The Department also developed and approved an internal policy on R&S, and its standard operating procedures on R&S, which stipulate the processes to be followed to the last detail and the roles and responsibilities, as well as the timelines, for each activity during the R&S process.
This policy had been there all along, and was amended and changed as and when there was a need to do so.
The DPSA required that all vacant posts be filled within six months, while the Department had set itself a target of filling posts within four months.
This had been challenging to attain, as the timelines were tight, considering the time needed for the process. The reasonable period was six months, as set out by the DPSA.
The DPSA had also set a vacancy rate of 9.9% in the medium-term budget policy statement (MTBPS) at the national level for all government departments. However, in its endeavour to excel, the DEL had set its target for 2022/23 at 8%. This was attainable if the current trends were anything to go by.
The current instruments that guide the R&S process are relevant for now, as they emphasise turnaround times, fairness and transparency, and stress ethical behaviour by panel members during the R&S process. 

The generic challenges and interventions employed were challenges that were embedded in the R&S process. Internal promotions within the Department made it seem like posts needed to be filled due to the net effect of internal promotions. In its endeavour to appreciate and retain talent, the Department had been making promotions from within, and the net effect was that the vacancy rate then seemed to stay the same.

The critical point was that as soon as promotions were made, or it was known that an official would be going on retirement, the responsible manager should start the recruitment and selection process without delay so that a new appointment was made within the stipulated period.

Dealing with other reasons for capacity within HRM operations has been a challenge. However, the Department had decided to use the Employment Services South Africa (ESSA) system to source candidates for the lower levels (levels 1-8), whose applications were generally in high volumes. The ESSA team would then assist the HRM team with the matching, selection, and pre-shortlisting to reduce the pressure on the HRM operational team. This has proved to be highly effective in dealing with high volumes of applications.

Vacancy rate reporting was a constant feature on the agenda of all the governance structures of the Department -- the executive committee (EXCO), audit committee, the Minister's committee and the monthly reporting to the National Treasury. The head office also tracks the filling of posts within the provinces every week. At certain times, candidates get identified and selected. They turn down offers for various reasons, such as that they had lost interest in the post, or had another better alternative elsewhere. Specific areas/provinces/posts tended to be less attractive to prospective candidates, and they ended up with candidates that did not meet the basic requirements. These then had to be re-advertised repeatedly until suitable candidates were found. On the other hand, the challenge could be that the post's basic requirements needed to be reviewed to make them relevant and able to attract the targeted candidates.

The vacancy rate had been declining gradually over the period between April and November 2022. As depicted in the graph on slide 10, the sudden reduction in November was mainly because of the letters written to the responsible managers to fill their vacant posts that were older than 12 months in September, and pointing out the consequence management if managers failed to adhere to this directive. As indicated earlier, the APP target for the Department for 2022/23 was set at 8%, and the current trend indicated that this was possible to achieve.

The Department emphasised its commitment to improving its vacancy rate, and ensuring adherence to the standard operating procedure for recruitment and selection.

The consequence management for failure to comply with the filling of vacant funded posts was spelt out
in letters that the Director-General had issued to managers whose funded posts were older than 12 months. The managers were ordered to comply by the end of quarter three. A report would then be compiled, indicating those who had complied and those who may have failed to do so. At that point, disciplinary action processes would be escalated.

The presentation concluded with the way forward:

The capturing of applications would be attended to by the public employment services (PES) branch's ESSA staff, which would play the role of response handling by reducing the workload on HRM staff. This was a decision made by management, and it was under implementation. The positive spin-offs would be assessed in the fourth quarter.
The use of an electronic system to receive applications must be considered. The ICT unit had been requested to consider this, to eliminate the manual capturing of applications.
As soon as a post was vacated due to resignation or retirement, the managers would ensure that the process of R&S was initiated immediately.
The Department was currently analysing the reasons and impediments to filling vacant posts, and the report would be concluded by the first week of December.
The Department would continue to closely monitor the filling of funded vacancies at all its governance forums.

(See the presentation for further details).


Mr S Ngcobo (IFP) expressed concern for the funded vacant posts spanning over 12 months, and asked the DEL to explain the delay in addressing this challenge. He asked why managers did not implement proactive measures in cases of posts that would be vacant in cases of retirement and resignations.  

Ms C Mkhonto (EFF) noted her concern for the vacant posts as a matter of incompetence on the part of the DEL. She asked that the DEL specify the number of vacant posts, the age of the posts, the remedial actions, the dates for filling the vacant posts, and the preventative measures to ensure the HR challenges did not occur in the future. The HR challenges must be addressed on an urgent basis. The DEL should be exemplary and lead by example.

The Chairperson said that DEL should lead by example and ensure no vacant posts. She asked the DEL's Chief Director of Provincial Operations in Gauteng to clarify how it could effectively render services, considering the high number of vacant posts for extensive periods. She appreciated the challenges experienced by the DEL's Northern Cape Provincial Operations due to the geographical location and the subsequent lack of interest in vacancies in the province. However, she sought clarity on why there were no specific "headhunting" recruitment efforts to employ local candidates.

DEL's response

Mr Tshepo Mokomatsidi, Chief Director (CD), DEL Gauteng Provincial Operations, replied that Gauteng had the largest population, and the province received many applications when posts were advertised. During the Covid pandemic, the DEL introduced measures such as rotational work to protect the health and safety of employees. Most HRM officials worked on a rotational basis, which negatively impacted work production. The DEL had attempted to address the challenge through the provision of laptops. However, several challenges have been experienced because of supply and demand.

He reiterated that the high number of applications took significant time to process. Once the Covid pandemic restrictions were lifted, the DEL's Gauteng Provincial Operations mobilised officials at the labour centres and management support services' staff to assist the HRM officials. The team had prioritised and processed applications older than 12 months. Most applications had been successfully processed by June 2022. After that, the short-listing and interview process was implemented urgently. He said that 28 appointment letters were dispatched, and the candidates would commence duties between December and January. Once the process was completed, the updated recruitment information would be captured on the HR system. This would positively impact the vacancy status of the province.

He added that as of the end of November 2022, 29 interviews would have been conducted. The management team had prioritised the finalisation of the process through overtime work. The expected finalisation date of the selection process was the second week of December. A further 60 additional interviews were scheduled for the first two weeks of December.

Mr Zolile Albanie, CD: Provincial Operations, DEL Northern Cape (NC), responded to the Chairperson on the province's high turnover rate and the inability to retain officials. The reasons were historical, as the province did not have an institute of higher learning. This resulted in competition with other provinces, as many students preferred to study outside the province. Once these students completed their studies in the other provinces, they preferred to settle there.

He said that the recruitment of posts had improved following the establishment of the Sol Plaatjie University in the NC. The DEL NC had engaged with the university on posts which required university qualifications, such as the inspection and enforcement services posts. The DEL NC entry-level posts were easy to recruit, as the requirements were matriculation and no experience. He said the main challenge was recruiting posts from level 7 upwards, which required a post-matriculation qualification.

He provided an example of the challenges experienced in appointing a deputy director (DD) and two assistant director (AD) posts. The DD position had been vacant for more than 12 months, and had been advertised on three occasions. In the third advertisement attempt, candidates were interviewed, but a dispute was launched and resolved through an investigation process. The report of the dispute process was pending. Once this process was completed, the DD would be appointed. Secondly, regarding the AD posts, only one appointment had been finalised, and the second one would be re-advertised.

Mr Albanie said that the DEL NC was considering the option of headhunting. It liaised with organisations such as the National Youth Development Agency (NYDA) and the Small Enterprise Development Agency (SEDA). He hoped that the vacant AD posts and the vacant posts in the labour activation programmes would be successfully filled in the next round of recruitment.

He referred to the DEL's presentation, which highlighted that HRM primarily drives recruitment and selection, and suggested that there must therefore be strengthened competencies and capacities within HRM. The retrenchment issues and the high turnover rate also affected the HRM unit. The DD and AD posts were vacant in the HRM unit. Further, the chief of personnel post would be vacant, as the current incumbent would take up another post in the Free State from 1 December.

He added that the entire recruitment process was centralised in the provincial office. Once the vacancy report was updated, there would be a notable improvement in the figures presented.

Mr Lamati agreed with the concerns of the Chairperson and the Members -- the DEL was expected to lead by example. He agreed with Ms Mkhonto that the vacant posts reflect incompetence on the part of the Department. All managers were responsible for the resources of their specific department. The importance of resources could not be overemphasised, so when there was a vacancy, it was the managers' responsibility to fill it.

He said the DEL's tolerance towards delays in filling vacancies had been too high, and it had decided to address this matter urgently. The DEL executive authority and accounting officer were accountable to National Treasury in submitting funding requests for vacant posts. 

Mr Lamati said that it was unacceptable that there were vacant posts. As the posts were essential, recruitment for the posts should have been completed. He added that the meeting with the Portfolio Committee had been critical, as it had exposed the provincial officials to the questions posed by the Committee and the expected responsibility from managers in the Department.

He emphasised that the DEL would continue implementing remedial steps to address the HR challenges. Provincial DEL offices had been instructed to complete the recruitment process by the end of December. He submitted apologies on behalf of the Minister and Deputy Minister to the Chairperson and the Committee. He assured the Members that an updated report would be submitted in due course. 

Chairperson's comments

The Chairperson said that the Committee would closely monitor the situation. The DEL must submit a detailed report to it in the first quarter of 2023. She was concerned that the vacant posts in question were funded posts and that there was a high unemployment rate in the country.

She requested that the DEL's report to the Committee must provide a clear breakdown of the posts in terms of levels, an outline of the challenges within the recruitment panels, and the reason for the high vacancy rate at the Compensation Fund.

The Committee was required to conduct oversight and monitor the vacancy rate. She emphasised the importance of the DEL executive and the Committee's role in addressing the vacancies. She asked the heads of departments to take responsibility and to ensure a positive change in the recruitment of vacant posts. She noted the accountability of the DEL executive and the DG. All heads of departments should be present in meetings with the Committee to respond to the issues as required. The vacant posts would be a priority for the Department and the Committee.

The Chairperson thanked the Department for the briefings, and released them from the meeting.

Committee minutes

The draft minutes of the Committee's meetings held on 28 September and 9 November were unanimously adopted.

The draft minutes of 16 November were set aside for adoption at the Committee's next session.

The meeting was adjourned.

Download as PDF

You can download this page as a PDF using your browser's print functionality. Click on the "Print" button below and select the "PDF" option under destinations/printers.

See detailed instructions for your browser here.

Share this page: