A disagreement over wages that resulted in a national three-week strike involving up to 3,000 South African cotton sector workers has taken a major step forward, according to the workers' union, with an agreement close to being signed.

Up to 3,000 employees downed tools at the start of the month in a seven-day strike after the Southern African Clothing & Textile Workers' Union (SACTWU) issued a notice over salaries. This went down to 1,500 employees, and last week involved around 600 members.

The issue in dispute is the employers' final wage package increase offer of 7.75%. Members are demanding a 10% increase.

In a notice on Friday (15 August), SACTWU said the five employer associations have all received firm mandates from their constituencies to settle the wage dispute, which were produced during a 5 August meeting.

"This is a major step forward towards settlement and to prevent a national wage strike of 80,000 clothing workers," SACTWU said.

"We are recommending a settlement of the dispute. We can report that initial indications are that our members are prepared to accept the recommended settlement. We have accordingly resolved not to proceed with a strike ballot in the clothing industry."

The union's final demand was for a 9% package increase for metro area workers and double-digit increases for non-metro area workers.

The recommended settlement is an 8% package increase for metro area workers and 11% for non-metro area workers, with effect from 1 September.

"We have sought a higher settlement for non-metro area workers, so as to significantly narrow the wage gap between them and metro area workers," the union added.

The parties have, in principle, also agreed to a two year wage agreement. The technical modalities of what increases would be applicable in year two, however, is currently being finalised between the parties, SACTWU added.

The parties have set aside Thursday as a date on which the agreement will be signed, should the union secure a final settlement mandate from its members.