Industrial action by workers affiliated with the National Education Health and Allied Workers’ Union (Nehawu) and the Public Servants Association (PSA) continues at the South African Revenue Service (Sars).
Several branch offices across the country and call centres assisting tax practitioners and small and medium-sized businesses are closed. It is also not possible to make electronic bookings.
However, operational disruptions have been minimal and by noon on Thursday (May 26) all border posts were running smoothly except for Qacha’s Nek on the Free State/Lesotho border, where police were called to assist.
The workers are demanding an across-the-board increase of 12% (CPI plus 7%).
(In 2019 a wage increase of 8% for that year and a CPI plus 2% increase for 2020/21 were agreed to.)
Sars is now offering 1.3% after starting with a zero percent increase.
Sars Commissioner Edward Kieswetter said in a statement earlier this week that the doors of negotiation remain open.
“I understand and empathise with the financial challenges faced by our own employees at Sars, as well as all employees country wide. In fact, all South Africans, especially millions who are unemployed, suffer the impact of the current economic climate,” he said.
“In a country that is faced with high unemployment and other socio-economic challenges, Sars employees already have security of tenure, as well as market-related salaries and benefits,” said Kieswetter.
“This offer, whilst not addressing the demands of employees, will provide additional relief to minimise the impact of the current economic conditions.”
Nehawu spokesperson Lwazi Nkolonzi said the offer was an insult to the workers.
He added that there was no indication when negotiations would continue. “The workers remain steadfast in their demands and will not return to work until their demands are met,” he said.
Nehawu represents more than 5 000 employees of the Sars workforce of approximately 12 500.
Kieswetter said the revenue service recognises the right of workers to strike, but added that it will take the necessary steps to balance the impact of the strike with its responsibility to provide services to taxpayers and to collect tax.
Sars is applying the “no-work, no-pay principle”.
The South African Institute of Taxation (Sait) and the South African Institute of Professional Accountants (Saipa) reported that their members did not experience any serious service issues. However, the call centre for tax practitioners was closed.
Sars did indicate that it would honour virtual meetings that have already been booked. The e-booking system is not functional.
Beatrie Gouws, head of stakeholder management and strategic development at Sait, said there was no indication that the strike would affect upcoming deadlines for taxpayers. There have not been any reports of acts of violence or intimidation from tax practitioners.
Phillip Joubert, manager of the Saipa Centre of Tax Excellence, said there has been a marked slowdown in the response time from Sars.
He added that their members have not reported any serious issues affecting them or their ability to service their clients, most of which are small and medium businesses.
Although the contact centres for practitioners as well as small businesses are closed due to the strike, as is the e-booking facility, the contact centres for pay-as-you-earn (PAYE), value-added tax (VAT), personal income tax, and customs remain open.
Joubert noted that although Sars vowed to honour the virtual meetings that have already been committed to, those meetings have been a challenge even without a strike.
He said Saipa members have been avoiding visits to branch offices so the closure of around 14 offices across the country would not have a major impact on them.
Sars said in its statement that due to the wide range of online services, the impact of the strike on its operations has been minimal. Kieswetter “encouraged” taxpayers to continue avoiding visits to Sars offices.
“Over the next few days, we will continue to monitor developments at our branch offices,” he said. Sars is continually updating its website to advise taxpayers on how to engage with them.
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