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No Downgrade For SA, Says Fitch – Entrepreneurs Relieved

Members of the Entrepreneurs’ Organization are available to discuss the practical steps they are taking for their businesses.

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Entrepreneurs across South Africa feel relieved that the Central Reserve Bank of South Africa has left rates unchanged especially off the back of the economic downgrades by Standard & Poor’s and Fitch as well as the pending Moody’s review, according to the Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO).

Further relief is provided by the news that a second damaging credit rating cut from Fitch, has been avoided.

EO recently released a survey (Global Entrepreneurship Indicator) indicating high levels of optimism among entrepreneurs globally, as well as in South Africa prior to the downgrades. Of entrepreneurs in Durban, Cape Town and Gauteng, 61.5% reported an increase in business revenue year on year, with 50.3% of them reporting an increase in net profit at the time of the survey which took place before the downgrade. However, since then, sentiment is shifting. 

“Having spoken to members in the last month, the feeling has certainly changed and there is a strong sense of frustration and anxiety since the cabinet reshuffle and subsequent downgrade among our members,” says Ross Drakes, incoming EO president for Johannesburg. “It will be interesting to see how much the needle shifts in the next survey period, scheduled to take place in September. Until then though, members are keeping an eye on interest rates announcement such as the one made today and have discussed with one another the strategies or approaches they plan to put in place over the short to medium term.”

According to EO member, Andrew Ryan, MD of GOT Holdings, putting investments offshore has been something which he hopes will assist with cushioning any economic downturn. “We set up a business overseas which is managed and controlled by overseas employees. As a business, we have had to be careful in ensuring effective control tax laws and there is purpose in an offshore office, in our case procurement, and is not just a post office.” 

Ryan expects the downgrade to have a 50/50 chance of impacting his business but has three guidelines in mind on how to navigate this period. “I plan to use a three point change as a benchmark in the interest rate when making business decisions. Debt will be the first to go, where possible, as well as underperforming assets not keeping up with inflation. I plan to cut costs but not in the area of marketing. As a matter of fact, this is where I would increase spend and focus on being more effective in our marketing efforts,” says Ryan. 

In terms of businesses which may be more resilient, property and debt recovery are possibly sectors which will be less exposed to risk. 

Saskia Hill, MD of MCS Debt Recovery and an EO member, acknowledges that being in the debt collection industry, they are likely to get more accounts handed over for collections when times are tough.

“When consumers come under pressure, not being able to pay off debt is a negative consequence of a downturn, yet it is also indicative of how opportunities can exist for entrepreneurs when times are tough and that everything is cyclical.  It is important for entrepreneurs to do what they can, whether times are good or not, and for me, cash is king. As and when we can, we pay cash for everything and avoid taking on too much debt. Of course, this is not applicable to all industries but it is about being able to identify opportunities such as this through shared experience,” says Hill. 

Another option for entrepreneurs to consider is the export market. The local Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) will sponsor trips overseas (60% of flights and 60% of accommodation) if travelling for potential export business. “I have been to Holland on such a basis while looking at business opportunities. You can get 100% full sponsorship from the national DTI but I found more success with the local DTI,” adds Hill.

Another resilient industry is property. “Great property deals always exist when the rest of the market stops buying and everybody is keen to sell, or required to when bonds become either too expensive or home owners are looking to liquidate assets,” says Grant Gavin, MD of RE/MAX Panache and an EO member. 

Related: Digital Start-Ups Are Growing – And Quickly

“What we do see as a potential threat is our employees who are going to be concerned about job security,” says Gavin.

“Leaders need to bring certainty when none exists. Mind-set becomes important and therefore leaders need to spend more time focussing on motivation and inspiration. At the end of the day, employees still have a job to do, and even though it may be tougher, a job still needs to be done. This is a time when leaders will be defined from the managers. If there is any area where we will not be cutting costs, it will be in training our staff. Another area where we would increase spend is in marketing. That way, when the market rebounds, and our competitors cut marketing spend, we will emerge as a stronger brand. This approach has been tried and tested.”

Based on feedback and discussions with the EO members, there seems to be consensus that while businesses can expect difficult times ahead, a strong network and support system is critical to keeping heads above the water.

“Being an entrepreneur can be very lonely and having a network to tap into is extremely valuable. The purpose of an organisation such as EO is it allows for entrepreneurs to speak to each other and it certainly helps knowing you are not the only one going through certain problems and this helps enormously,” says Drakes.

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The Workspace And MiWay Announce Entrepreneur Competition

To celebrate their collaboration at Village Road, The Workspace and MiWay are launching a competition for South Africa’s entrepreneurs that will see the winner/s given a major advantage to further grow their business.

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Space solutions and coworking specialist, The Workspace, and insurance company, MiWay, recently joined forces at The Workspace’s premises in Village Road, Selby where they have launched an entrepreneurial hub and business development programme in the Johannesburg CBD.

The competition is open to entrepreneurs based in South Africa who have valid identification documents, who run a business with four or less employees and are making an impact in their industry.

“We have always believed in assisting entrepreneurs and small business owners who are members of The Workspace community in whatever way we can. This entrepreneur competition takes it to the next level, giving a voice to our belief in entrepreneurship and its ability to create jobs,” says Mari Schourie, CEO of The Workspace.

Related: 6 Resources For Start-ups Looking For Funding

Morné Stoltz, head of Business Insurance at MiWay, says both companies are committed to upliftment initiatives and economic development. “The entrepreneur competition is a call to action to those vibrant entrepreneurs out there. Start-ups always need a bit of a hand-up and the winner of this one will have a serious advantage once the competition has gone through its paces,” he said.

Schourie and Stoltz agree they’re looking for an entrepreneur who has reinvented the way business is done in his/her industry. “Someone who has been innovative in the product or service being offered to the market,” says Schourie.

“We are looking for an entrepreneur who has or is busy creating a special environment where employees can flourish, and in the process, potentially creating more jobs,” Stoltz adds. “An entrepreneur who makes an impression on the judges due to aspects such as the business’ social impact, attitude, positive entrepreneurial outlook and a good business mind”.

Related: 4 Tips To Secure Funding For Your Start-up

The prize on offer – worth over R230 000 – will help set-up the winning entrepreneur for a period of 12 months, giving them a boost to help build their business.

All information on the Entrepreneur Competition is available on The Workspace website, including criteria, terms and conditions, and of course, the prizes.

For queries, please email events@theworkspace.co.za

Download the competition criteria here.

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Budget 2018/9: 3 Key Tax Areas To Look Out For In The Speech

High political drama in the opening weeks of Parliament aside, most South African business and personal taxpayers are expecting tax hikes across the board from the Finance Minister’s Budget Speech on 21 February.

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As we approach #Budget2018 day, Rob Cooper (tax expert and Director of Legislation at Sage, and chairman of the Payroll Authors Group of South Africa)has a few thoughts about what the Minister could clarify in his statement.

Government already faces a yawning budget deficit, aggravated by the need to find billions of rand to fund a new and unbudgeted-for commitment to free tertiary education.

While some spending cuts could help to release funds, we can expect a one to two percentage point increase in VAT, steep hikes to fuel levies and sin taxes, higher capital gains taxes, and perhaps even personal income tax hikes for high income earners.  We’re also likely to get more info on new taxes such as the carbon tax.

Personal taxpayers, with the exception of low-income earners, should probably not expect the Finance Minister to adjust personal income tax brackets and rebates to fully cater for the effect of inflation. In other words, even if your salary is worth less as a result of inflation, you should probably not be hoping for your effective tax rate to come down to compensate.

Here are three other things I’m looking out for in this year’s budget, each of which will have a major effect for employees and employers alike:

1. National Health Insurance

One of the big will-he-or-won’t-he questions the Finance Minister faces this year is whether to do away with the modest tax credit taxpayers receive for their medical aid payments. Government is eyeing an estimated R25 billion in funds from scrapping these tax credits, to be used to fund the incoming National Health Insurance scheme.

Many of us expected Minister Malusi Gigaba to announce this move in his Mid-Term Budget Speech in October 2017, but he held back. The move is likely to be contentious since a National Treasury analysis shows that 56% of the total credits claimed in 2014-2015 accrued to around 1.9 million taxpayers with a taxable income below R300,000.

In other words, the medical aid credit makes decent healthcare affordable to millions of people who might not otherwise be able to afford it. Taking it away could have dire consequences for the health of millions of lower income South Africans and put even more strain on an already pressurised public healthcare system.

Related: Budget Speech: The Impact on SMEs

2. Travel reimbursements and allowances

Travel reimbursements have long been a pain point for many employers and employees. Up to 28 February 2018, a portion of an employee’s travel costs was treated as remuneration when:

  • The per-kilometre rate used to calculate the travel reimbursement was greater than the SARS-prescribed rate per kilometre.
  • An employee is reimbursed for more than 12,000 business kilometres are reimbursed during the tax year.
  • The reimbursement value was greater than the prescribed maximum number of business km (12 000 km for 2018) multiplied by the prescribed rate per kilometre (R3,55 for 2018).

The result was that skills development levies and UIF contributions were added to something that should be considered as an operational cost rather than a payroll cost. This in turn increased the employer’s cost of employment. These levies and contributions were not assessed at the end of the tax year, so employers could not claim a refund.

We have long argued this regulation should be changed to be fairer to employers and employees alike. As a first step in the right direction, SARS has announced a simplification of the travel allowance and the travel reimbursement provisions, with effect from 1 March 2018.

Under this change, only the portion of the value of the travel expenses reimbursed at a rate above the ‘prescribed’ rate per kilometre will be treated as remuneration.  However, in future, we would like to see SARS handle travel reimbursements in the same way as it treats subsistence allowances for employees when they travel.

The excess portion of the subsistence allowance will be taxed on assessment, but it is not remuneration for the purposes of Pay-As-You-Earn (PAYE), skills development levies and UIF.

3. Employment Tax Incentive

I’m a fan of the Employment Tax Incentive (ETI) as an innovation geared towards addressing South Africa’s youth unemployment crisis, and the decision to extend the programme until the end of the 2019 tax year is welcome. However, administration of the scheme has always been complex for SARS and employers alike, a factor that has made some companies hesitate to take advantage of it.

Though SARS and the National Treasury have tweaked the ETI over the years, I would welcome further simplification of the definitions and calculations. That said, I don’t expect much news about the ETI this year, apart from alignment with the National Minimum Wage expected to be introduced from 1 May 2018.

Follow us on @SageGroupZA on 21 Feb for LIVE expert insights from the annual Budget Speech.

For more information about Sage’s annual tax seminars, please visit: http://go.sage.com/NPS_18Q1_C4L_ZA_EVCU_HR0310_20thAnnualPayrollTaxSeminarLP

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Pregnancy: What Are Employee’s Rights?

From the 12-16 is Pregnancy Awareness Week and a labour law expert talks about rights around pregnancy for employees and employers.

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Anticipating the birth of a baby is an exciting time for soon-to-be parents, but it can be stressful for couples as they negotiate companies’ leave policies and a possible reduction of income.

Jennifer Da Mata, Managing Director of Strata-G Labour Solutions, says employees need to familiarise themselves with their employers’ policies to ensure they understand what their rights are. “According to South Africa’s Basic Conditions of Employment Act (BCEA), female employees have the right to four consecutive months’ unpaid maternity leave.

“An employee may commence maternity leave any time from four weeks prior to the expected date of birth, or on a date determined by a medical practitioner or midwife as necessary for the protection of the employee or unborn baby’s health.

“The balance of leave needs to be taken after the baby is born, bearing in mind that no employee may work for six weeks after the birth of the baby, unless a medical practitioner or midwife certifies the employee is fit to resume her duties,” adds Da Mata.

There is no provision in South Africa’s legislation that stipulates when employees need to inform employers that they are pregnant. Employees must, however, notify their employers in writing on when they intend to commence maternity leave and when they expect to return to work.

Da Mata notes that some companies offer paid maternity leave, but this is at their own discretion. “Companies may offer employees full pay or a portion of their salary, as they see fit, but they are not legally obliged to do so. Employees who are not remunerated while on maternity leave are entitled to claim maternity benefits through the Department of Labour.”

Related: Maternity Leave – The Rights of Your Employees

And what about paternity leave?

According to Da Mata, employees are not entitled to paternity leave in terms of the BCEA, although one of the major amendments proposed to this Act includes making provision for paternity leave. “It is proposed that 10 consecutive days’ paternity leave be granted to a father following the birth of a child.

“Some companies have already adopted paternity leave as part of their human resource policies. We urge companies that haven’t done so yet, to keep the proposed amendments in mind when reviewing their internal company policies,” he says.

Currently, fathers are entitled to three days paid family responsibility leave during each annual leave cycle for the birth of a child. However, it is likely that this leave entitlement will be replaced by the proposed paternity leave amendments. “While the 10 days leave is great news for fathers, it will take a huge chunk out of their salary if paternity leave is ultimately promulgated as unpaid leave,” says Da Mata.

As a matter of precaution employees need to ensure that their employers have registered them for Unemployment Insurance benefits.  This will allow them to receive some benefit while on maternity or paternity leave. “Sections 34 and 37 of the Unemployment Insurance Act, 1966 (Act 30 of 1966), provide for the payment of maternity leave and legislative amendments will be proposed to Cabinet to improve these benefits,” explains Da Mata.

It is important for employers to note that in terms of section 187 (1) (e) of the Labour Relations Act, 1995, the dismissal of an employee on account of her pregnancy, intended pregnancy, or any reason related to her pregnancy, is automatically unfair. The definition of dismissal in section 186 of the Labour Relations Act, 1995, includes the refusal to allow an employee to resume work after she has taken maternity leave in terms of any law, collective agreement or her contract.

Related: Unlegislated ‘Other’ Leave Not A Right Says CRS Technologies

Da Mata says employers cannot unfairly discriminate against employees based on their pregnancy status. “If someone is dismissed for being pregnant, the dismissal may be held to be automatically unfair and the employee will be able to claim reinstatement or up to 24 months’ compensation in the labour court.

“Our advice to clients is to adhere to South Africa’s Labour legislation, be clear on their policies about maternity and paternity leave and consider the benefits of being on the right side of the law. This will ultimately cultivate a happy and productive workforce,” concludes Da Mata.

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