The National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) has given employers in the steel industry until next week to reach a wage settlement with the union or face a crippling strike action. Wage negotiations in the sector collapsed last month and there’s still no resolution in sight.

The steel industry remains a key pillar of the economy. It generates around R600 billion a year, mainly through exports. It’s also a big employer with around two million workers employed in big and small companies.

NUMSA, which is the majority union in the sector, is demanding an 8% wage increase across the board.

Employers are offering four-and-half percent. Moreover, employers want an exception to allow struggling companies to pay less than the national minimum rate of between R21 and R49 an hour.

The issue is a major sticking point. NUMSA spokesperson, Phakamile Hlubi-Majola says informal talks are currently underway to try and resolve the impasse. But, NUMSA says its members are ready to down tools if an agreement is not reached soon.

There are three main steel employer organizations in the country. They are the Steel & Engineering Industries Federation of South Africa, the National Employers Association of South Africa and the South African Engineers and Founders Association. They represent close to 10 000 companies with a combined workforce of around 430 000 employees.

VIDEO: NUMSA threatens strike action in the steel sector