Flash Briefing: Greedy Eskom staff demand 15% pay hikes; B4SA roll out vaccines; jail for tax errors; expect US boom

  • The two biggest unions representing workers at Eskom are seeking 15% wage increases, adding to the woes confronting the loss-making South African power utility, reports Bloomberg. The National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa and the National Union of Mineworkers tabled their demands. Pay talks will resume on May 4, says Eskom spokesman Sikonathi Mantshantsha. Solidarity, a smaller union, wants 9.5% increases for its members, it said by text message. South Africa’s consumer inflation rate is currently 2.9%. Eskom is struggling to meet electricity demand because of breakdowns at old and poorly maintained plants and isn’t generating enough cash to fund its operations and service its R464bn ($33bn) of debt. The utility bowed to pressure from labor in 2018 wage negotiations after strikes that crippled the grid, agreeing to a one-time cash payment and annual increases of at least 7%.
  • South Africa’s biggest business grouping will help develop private industry’s capacity to administer 160,000 coronavirus vaccinations a day, according to Business for South Africa. Vaccines will be administered at pharmacies, employer premises and large-scale sites developed by medical-insurance providers and others, Martin Kingston, chairman of B4SA’s steering committee, said Friday in an online press conference. “No citizen will be denied,” he said. The announcement was made as South Africa began asking people over the age of 60 to register for the vaccine. The country has been slow to roll out its vaccination program and has now had to pause the distribution of doses because of uncertainty about Johnson & Johnson inoculations. South Africa vaccinated 292,623 health-care workers as of April 15. B4SA’s members, which include Business Unity South Africa, Business Leadership South Africa, the Black Business Council and the Banking Association of South Africa, are working closely with the Department of Health to build capacity, Kingston said.
  • A new set of tax law amendments make it possible for the South African Revenue Service (SARS) to impose criminal sanctions on taxpayers who neglect their tax affairs, reports MyBroadband.co.za. The amendments, signed by President Cyril Ramaphosa and promulgated on 20 January 2021, makes unintentional tax errors punishable by a fine or imprisonment. This is a step away from the previous legislation where taxpayers could only be fined or sent to jail if their transgression were committed “wilfully and without just cause”. “The law previously required an element of intent. If negligence or ignorance caused your administrative non-compliance, you would have got off with a slap on the wrist,” said Tax Consulting SA attorney Roxanna Naidoo. Werksmans Attorneys director, Doelie Lessing said the amendments remove SARS’ obligation to prove intention before a taxpayer could be found guilty of these non-compliance offences. The lower threshold to criminally prosecute taxpayers has been met with fierce resistance from tax practitioners and civil society. This is because the removal of the element of wilfulness provides less protection of taxpayers who make unintentional mistakes when doing their tax returns.
  • The global economy is showing signs of recovery after a year of business shut downs. US stocks jumped to record highs with retail sales and weekly jobless claims signalling an accelerating recovery in the world’s biggest economy, reports Bloomberg. Yields on benchmark 10-year Treasury notes dropped the most since February. Thursday’s economic data showed that some parts of the US economy, like retail sales, have returned to or exceeded pre-pandemic levels. Applications for unemployment benefits, while still high, hit their lowest point in 13 months. Nevertheless, close to 8 million people remain out of work thanks to the pandemic-induced downturn. Jamie Dimon said he’s optimistic the pandemic will end with a US economic rebound that could last at least two years. “I have little doubt that with excess savings, new stimulus savings, huge deficit spending, more QE, a new potential infrastructure bill, a successful vaccine and euphoria around the end of the pandemic, the US economy will likely boom,” the JPMorgan Chase chief executive officer said Wednesday in his annual letter to shareholders. “This boom could easily run into 2023.” China’s economy strengthened in the first quarter of the year as consumer spending rose more than expected, putting it on course to join the US as twin engines for a global recovery in 2021.

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