Sars and striking workers no closer to an agreement

Operational disruptions appear to be minimal.
The strike is not expected to affect upcoming deadlines for taxpayers. Image: Supplied

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.

Read: ArcelorMittal strike ends as Numsa secures above-inflation increase

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 demands

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.)

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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.

Read:

“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.

Service delivery

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.

Listen to Fifi Peters’s interview with OIM International director Chris Jacobs (or read the transcript here):

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As a businessman and free market thinker I rarely fing emotional support within myself for people that feel the need to use the power of the collective to enforce their agenda, Strangly this strike makes me happy, but not because I believe in the strikers right to increase their already sky high average salay.

SARS as the enforcer collecting money for a corrupt and criminal government.

So the longer these guys strike the less in wages we have to pay to them and the less money to end up in corrupt politicians pockets.

Please strike as long as you want guys.

In a country where 50% of people are unemployed, any militant labour action or strike is a farce, an act of stupid self-sabotage. They are demanding a higher price for peddling sand in the Sahara.

The market mechanism can sort out these issues within one day if it is allowed to do so. Considering the oversupply of labour, and the sub-standard capacity of most public sector workers, the average salary of a government employee should be lower than the minimum wage.

They only have bargaining power because a socialist government affords them the privilege of having monopoly powers in the jobs market. The Tripartite Alliance is a coercive structure that holds the country at ransom for the benefit of heir supporters in unionized labour movements. Local labour laws are legalised extortion that redistributes the assets and purchasing power of savers, investors, and entrepreneurs to finance the consumption habits of union members.

In effect, the consumption of productive capital by these abusive labour laws is a catalyst that turns job opportunities into sewage. After 30 years we are left with 50% unemployment and overflowing sewage plants.

there is a growing disconnect between the entitled striking state employees and folks struggling to make ends meet in the private sector. I have spent the last two days doing job interviews for a social worker post we advertised. In 5 days we had 116 applications. It’s heart wrending to meet desperate interviewees …. if a grown person with a degree and two dependants is prepared to accept R8000 a month just to land the job, you begin to despise those who are so entitled and “work” for the state.

I am with Liyabona. Please strike as log as you want.

SARS should have entered negotiations with a reduction of 30% for lower paid staff, and 60% for the ones with am annual income of 800k or higher.
SARS employees are there to collect taxes not waste it.
Then they could settle at -20% and -40%.

I am not sure if it’s possible to tell when SARS is working and when they are not. I have had 3 appointments to resolve an issue for a client and not once do they get respond after the appointment or follow up with any actions. The zero accountability which has been facilitated by “working” online has certainly not been encouraging. Perhaps SARS should start thinking of linking salaries with performance as opposed to mandatory increases. I’m all for cost of living increases but I am also believe in actually working for a salary.

End of comments.

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