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CAPE TOWN - The South African Revenue Service (Sars) on Friday said it was hoping unions would return to the negotiating table in a bid to avert strike action planned for next week following a collapse of wage talks.

Responding to a strike notice issued by the majority union, Public Servants Association (PSA), Sars spokesman Sandile Memela said: "Sars is still preparing to avoid a possible industrial action following the continued wage negotiation deadlock with organised labour."

The PSA, which represents almost half of the workforce at Sars, is demanding a 11.4 percent salary increase, a single-term agreement and pay progression, among others.

However, Memela said the revenue service could not afford this.

"Despite the CCMA [Commission for Conciliation Mediation and Arbitration] certificate of non-resolution, Sars is hopeful that organised labour will reconsider the employer’s offer of seven percent which amounts to [Consumer Price Index] CPI plus three percent based on the published inflation rate. This is a very generous offer, far above what public institutions and most other industries give," said Memela.

"All of us, including organised labour fully understand- that the employer can only negotiate within its financial affordability." 

However, PSA general manager Ivan Fredericks said the unions would not allow the mismanagement of public funds to lead to a reduction in its members benefits.

"It is time that the minister of finance to reward employees for the exemplary work that they are doing under extremely challenging conditions and rather provide for an adequate budget at Sars instead of continuously bailing out non-performing [state-owned enterprises] SOEs,” said Fredericks.

Memela said Sars has requested an audience with unions next week in a bid "to find each other".

If a strike were to take place on March 28, it would coincide with the financial year end and could put revenue collection at risk, but Memela said measures are being put in place to counteract disruptions to services.

"We also respect the rights of all South African citizens to access our services and we will continue to make contingency plans to allow for continued service in the event of a strike," said Memela.

"Sars remains committed to make every effort to avoid industrial action which may adversely impact the country’s revenue."

African News Agency (ANA)