10,000 SA workers indefinite strike

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National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union (NEHAWU) workers demonstrate in Eastern Cape demanding better wages

NEARLY 10,000 workers employed by the South African Revenue Services (SARS) began indefinite strike action last Thursday to fight for an 11.4% salary increase.

Members of the Public Servants Association (PSA) and National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union (Nehawu) are taking the joint action, and the two unions represent about 5,300 and 4,400 SARS employees, respectively.

Thirty-three out of 53 walk-in branches have been closed by the strike, with the rest just manned by managers.

Stefan Viljoen, labour relations officer for the PSA, said Sars faces an ‘almost total shutdown’.

Sars has obtained an interim interdict from the Labour Court in Johannesburg, barring workers from picketing at branches which were not designated in terms of the picketing rules.

About 150 people picketed at the SARS branch in the Durban city centre. And in Cape Town about 100 employees picketed at the SARS offices on the Foreshore.

Employees from the Bellville office also participated.

A NEHAWU statement said that negotiations at SARS for the 2019/20 financial year started in November 2018, but a deal could not be reached and the CCMA mediation service was asked to intervene.

NEHAWU’s key demands are for an 11.4% salary increase, a long-service benefit and better family responsibility leave.

A SARS press statement confirmed that it had reached a deadlock in negotiations with the PSA and NEHAWU.

SARS said it tabled a proposal that would see top performing lower-earning SARS employees receive increases of up to 9.2%.

Also, no employee would receive an increase of less than 5.2% (inflation plus 1.1%).

This proposal was rejected by the unions which insisted on an across-the-board increase of 11.4%.

NEHAWU spokesperson Khaya Xaba said the workers would not back down on their demands.

‘I can confirm that SARS is 100 per cent shut down because workers want an 11.5 per cent increase, not the seven per cent slave wages.

‘The strike is on and will go on until SARS management meets our demands,’ Xaba said.

‘All our members and those of the PSA are part of the strike.’

NEHAWU has commissioned a diagnostic exercise on the current status and/or the mood of the employees at South African Revenue Services (SARS) and the following are findings:

  • Employee morale is at its lowest during this critical time for South African Revenue Services (SARS)
  • Employee benefits are constantly being withdrawn in order to circumvent the uninformed financial decisions of SARS.
  • There’s a constant attempt at undermining Employment Equity in order to justify the current increase of the bloated management structure.
  • Failure of management to address the issue of capacity where it’s critically needed in order for SARS to realise its target and fully perform its core mandate.
  • Implementation of the constantly failing Strategy of Debt Management.
  • Outsourcing of functions that employees in South African Revenue Services (SARS) can and are performing.
  • Lack of decisive leadership at the helm of SARS.
  • Reintroduction of processes to increase Salary and Grade Anomalies.
  • Orchestrated dismissals of employees by the failure of South African Revenue Services (SARS) to address the loopholes on the systems at border posts.
  • Non-existence of Skills Development Plan.
  • Failure to implement the Due Diligence Report has been at a larger scale the reason why the conditions of service are compromised in the Revenue Services and that is a ticking time bomb as employees are pushed beyond measure.

Based on the above findings and also the current dispute, the national union consulted with its members across the nation which resulted in a national bargaining forum meeting held on 26th March 2019.

Out of this national forum meeting, the union emerged resolute and confident of its readiness to roll up its sleeves to ensure that the interests of its members are protected and the demands are adhered to.

Negotiations at SARS for the 2019/20 financial year started in November 2018 where the demands were tabled as a requirement and continued to engage the employer for a period of five months without any positive outcome.

This is because from the word go SARS never showed any interest in finding common ground and that was evident when in January 2019 they were still offering members a below inflation rate offer.

In the middle of negotiations in December 2018, SARS issued a memo to employees withdrawing some benefits they’d, had for many years.

Adding to the insult, instead of responding to workers’ demands SARS tabled a proposal to completely overhaul the leave dispensation within the organisation.

This was a clear indication that NEHAWU is dealing with an employer which is hell-bent on negotiating in bad faith.

This process continued until the union had to agree, as parties in the bargaining forum, that they were not finding common ground with each other and that they needed a third party in the form of CCMA to intervene.

At that point some of the union’s demands were as follows:

  • Single term agreement
  • Double digit salary increment
  • Long service benefit
  • New dispensation on family responsibility leave in the form of a three year circle instead of the current one year circle.
  • Granting of Pre-Natal leave.

On 8th March 2019 during the CCMA mediation a settlement proposal was put on the table by the CCMA Mediator for parties to consider and revert back to the 13th March with mandates.

Again it was the union that revised its position without SARS putting any revised offer on the table based on the CCMA proposal.

It is at that point that the certificate of non-resolution giving way to the strike was issued.

Subsequently, NEHAWU issued a notice to strike to the employer on the 20th March 2019.

Since the notice of strike was issued, three meetings were held with the employer – on the 25th and twice on the 26th March 2019 – to try to find common ground and avert the strike.

However in the last meeting, convened late on 26th March, it became clear that the strike action was inevitable, so NEHAWU called the workers out.