African farm workers beat US Homeland Security to biometric identification

February 2004 Access Control & Identity Management

Long before the first USA-bound traveller scanned their finger in the US Department of Homeland Security's much trumpeted biometric security system, farm workers in rural South Africa were using biometrics to clock in for work each morning.

The 100+ workers on De Wet Thirion's grape farm near Upington in the Northern Cape, scan their finger when they arrive at and leave work each day.

The biometric time and attendance system developed by TransmetriX, a Cape Town IT company, identifies each employee and the time at which they scanned, enabling the prompt and accurate calculation of their weekly wage. It also alerts the employer to any absentees, allowing them to bring in additional labour if necessary.

The farm, which grows over 1000 tonnes of grapes each year, deployed the SuperVision system after using a number of other methods to record the attendance of their seasonal employees.

According to Thirion, the biometric fingerprint scanner is simpler for employees to use and more cost-effective and accurate than the token-based systems previously employed by the farm. "We have had problems in the past, monitoring who is and who is not at work", said Thirion. "We need to pack and distribute our grapes as quickly as possible (optimising the supply chain) to ensure they are fresh when they arrive in the shops. Even having one member of staff arrive late can disrupt the whole packing line. TransmetriX's system alerts us if people have not appeared, ensuring we are able to bring in replacement labour quickly."

Jakes Redelinghuys, technical director of TransmetriX, is confident that the use of biometric systems will spread quickly. "Biometrics is not limited to Western governments' highly expensive security arrangements. Low cost systems, such as our SuperVision system, have just as important and valid a role in helping to improve labour productivity in develop- ing countries such as South Africa." Continued Redelinghuys, "Statistics from the USA indicate that paying absent workers and other payroll and productivity inefficiencies can add 15% to a company's wage bill. By eliminating this time fraud and improving their labour management, companies can expect to see a very significant improvement in their bottom line. In today's global economy, margins are tight and a system such as this might make the difference between business survival and failure."

For more information contact James Redelinghuys, TransmetriX, 021 552 9412,,

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