Workers at the South African Revenue Service (SARS) have ended their strike after the employer made a revised wage offer on Sunday. The employees went on strike on Thursday following a deadlock in wage negotiations.
The negotiations, mainly over salary hike, have been ongoing since November last year. The National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union (NEHAWU) and Public Servants Association of South Africa (PSA), which together represent over 9,000 employees of SARS, have been demanding a 11.4% increase in all employees’ salary, while the employer was only willing to concede an increase of only 7%.
Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA), which stepped in for mediation between the two, tabled a compromise of an 8% increase for this year, followed by an additional one percent increase over each of the next two years.
While the employer agreed and made this offer, the unions have been unwilling to commit for a multi-term agreement that will lock their bargaining power for three years. Their demand has been a one-term hike of 11.4%, followed by fresh negotiations for 2020.
However, the offer of 8% hike for one-term was placed before the workers by their unions but rejected. When the negotiations thus hit a deadlock on Wednesday, the unions gave a call for strike.
In a bid to reduce the effectiveness with which the industrial action could be organized, SARS got the Labour Court to pass an order banning picketing at all but two branches. However, as it turned out, picketing was not necessary. 33 branches across the country were shut.
With no officials manning the ports of entries, no goods coming into the country will be cleared by customs, PSA said on the first day of the strike. It warned SARS of the economic impact this will have. “At all points of entry, including airports and ports, there will be no customs officials to clear goods and all border posts will be closed for the duration of the strike,” Kisten Subbadu, a provincial spokesperson of PSA.
Hundreds of striking workers assembled outside the SARS offices in the city of Durban, demanding that their employer meet their demand. As the strike action continued over the next days, the newly appointed SARS commissioner, Edward Kieswette, stepped in to resolve the dispute.
Negotiations were held behind closed doors on Friday and Sunday between SARS and the unions. By the end of the meeting, a new offer was made by SARS. According to a statement made by PSA today, this offer will include, as in the previous one, an 8% wage for one year starting from today. The one percent annual hike that was offered for the next two years in the previous offer has been raised to two percent in the new offer.
The employer is also willing to commit that the “long-service award amount” will also increase at that same rate as wages. Further, an eight-day prenatal and vaccination leave, and another 10 days of leave (per two-years cycle) for “family responsibility” has also been offered.
In response to this offer, PSA placed the offer before its members, saying, “The current strike action is suspended until the mandate process on the revised offer from the employer has been considered and concluded. Should members vote to reject the revised offer from the employer, this will lead to further strike action until the employer revises the offer or parties agree to a settlement agreement.”
However, NEHAWU continued the strike action, while placing the offer before its members on April 1. According to a statement by its secretariat on Saturday, “Union is continuing with the strike action and.. on Monday, we will report to our members the outcomes of the meeting at the picket lines and receive a mandate from our members in relation to the ongoing negotiations. The union will from here on intensify the strike to ensure our members and workers’ demands are met by the employer.”