I have studied the Department of Labour’s press release dated 3/2/2012 regarding their intention to decentralize the administration of the COID office with scepticism and amusement at the same time.  Amused you may ask!  Yes when this was suggested during 1995 as an alternative to closing all decentralized offices in the then ex-TBVC countries, it was met with massive opposition from the new management.  I got the idea that the central authorities feared that decentralization was tantamount to affording more power to the second level of government namely provincial authorities.  That was a total misconception as the COID Act cannot in the present form be administered by the provinces.  To put it bluntly, they are nothing but ordinary employers in terms of the Act, thus it is impossible to administer it.  Twenty odd years down the line they seem to have realised this but I am afraid to say it is too late to turn the ship around.  For those of you who have not read the press release of the Labour department, I intend to discuss their intentions.  It will start with a road show by the CC to inform all the ”stakeholders” of their intentions.  The department has stuck to the practice of calling such exercises “road shows”.  Ag please can we not find a more informative term.  Road shows sound so much like a circus or something in that category.

Decentralisation as the department sees it

I will not try to interpret their intentions and objectives with the decentralization excersice but wil rather quote from the department’s press release and comment on it for you to form your own opinion.  I have not space to deal with the whole of the document but will stick to the more relevant parts.  The main objective of the decentralization move is the following according to the department:

“Decentralisation is an initiative whereby services of the Compensation for Occupation Injuries and Diseases Act (COIDA) are now extended and rendered at provincial level, rather than be solely provided at the CF’s head office in Pretoria (Tshwane). The initiative to introduce decentralisation in the provinces is intended to bring COIDA services closer to the people and stakeholders.”
“Mkhonto said the latest initiative follows a national pilot to test the efficacy of decentralising the services of the Compensation Fund, which had proven successful. The decentralisation is expected to be implemented in the new financial year which starts in April 2012, Mkhonto said.”

I am not aware of any amendment to the COID Act but the Act defines the financial year as from 1 March of each year and not “in April” as alleged.

“He estimated that the cost of the decentralisation would be about R274-million. Mkhonto reassured employees of the Fund that no retrenchments would occur out of the unfolding process.”

“This restructuring will instead result in a number of employment opportunities including contract workers,” emphasising that the headcount would be increased from the current 711 to more than 1000 in the new structure.  
“The Commissioner expects the operations at CF head office to be lean. He said the speed of rolling out decentralisation would be determined by readiness of the provinces in infrastructure in terms of accommodation and furniture among others.

Prior to the decentralisation’s pilot all information and documentation had to be sent to the national office for registration, adjudication and payment. We felt from the feedback of the stakeholders and clients that this arrangement was frustrating. Before the decentralization the turnover time for registering and adjudication was about 90 days and this has now been reduced to 60 days, and we feel that there is still room for further improvement.”

Those, dear readers are the main issues that you should take note of and for which you should prepare your own worker’s compensation procedures.

A few worrying aspects about the intended decentralization

I will be brief with my concerns because I have over the years realised that the road to hell is paved with good intentions.  So ponder the following

  • The Head Office is in chaos, by their own admission, even before the portfolio committee of Parliament;
  • If that is the case who will be training the personnel in the “branch” offices?;
  • Decentralization is supposed to enhance the service, it is not supposed to supply the full service afforded by the Act.  I can now predict that the people in the branches will be nothing but a static courier service.  Decentralization is not an objective in itself, a complete business plan should have been drawn up before the “stakeholders” are informed;
  • To state that the effort will be “about R274 million” is not sufficient.  A break down estimate should be available such as IT-infrastructure, salaries and accommodation, etc;
  • The increase in staff from 711 to “more than 1000” could have been funny if it was not for a financial burden on employers.  To say that the “CF head office to be lean” is not reflected in the above figures as the 711 will remain the same; and
  • I suspect this exercise has more to do with job creation than decentralization.

Decentralization which costs a large sum of money without the value that it is supposed to add is a waste.  In other words decentralization is not an end in itself; it is supposed to better the service.  You be the judge whether this will be the case 

Till next month