Picture: Nokuthula Mbatha/African News Agency (ANA)

JOHANNESBURG - Workers downed tools on Wednesday at the South African Social Security Agency (Sassa), which provides welfare grants to millions of poor people, the National Education, Health and Allied Workers' Union (Nehawu) said in a statement.

The union's main bone of contention is the roll-out of a biometric system for beneficiaries which it says has not been linked to new performance targets for its over 8,000 members at the agency. 

"It has been our understanding that the strike remains a last resort after exhausting all available avenues including seeking an intervention from the Minister of Social Development, Honourable Susan Shabangu," Nehawu general-secretary Zola Saphetha had previously said.

"Our intention has been consistently resolving issues amicably during negotiations, but the intransigence and arrogance of the Sassa management resulted into one option, the total shutdown of all Sassa workplaces."

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Reuters and African News Agency (ANA