Clothing workers in South Africa could be headed for strike action as negotiations between companies and unions become increasingly tense.

South African clothing manufacturers have told the Southern African Clothing & Textile Workers Union (SACTWU) that they will end the 2011/12 clothing industry party-to-party wage agreement.

This agreement has a proviso for a 30% lower entry wage rate for new workers coming into the industry, a deal agreed by the SACTWU in October as part of efforts to revitalise the country's manufacturing sector.

According to the SACTWU, the Apparel Manufacturers Association (AMSA) said that the current agreement will come to an end on 31 August.

The SACTWU said it is "puzzled" why AMSA would do this, when it constantly states that "wages in the clothing industry are too high". The union adds that it does not agree "as clothing workers are the lowest paid in the whole of the domestic manufacturing industry".

The SACTWU said its general secretary and two national organising secretaries formally met with AMSA senior management, where they clarified the consequences of the termination of the agreement, adding that AMSA has confirmed that the lower wage rate would come to an end following the notice.

The two groups are currently in negotiations, with the SACTWU seeking a 13.5% rise on total labour costs. It says no wage increase has been tabled by clothing industry employers belonging to AMSA.

AMSA employers said they are "willing and desirous" to lift wages, however, they argue they would need to pay all workers the new minimum wage.

So far this month the union has declared a wage dispute against employers in both the Cotton Textiles and the Worsted Textiles sectors, which could lead to strike action.

Cotton textiles employers have tabled an offer of 5.5% and a reduction in the starting minimum wage rate to 80% of current levels, but SACTWU is demanding a 7.5% wage increase. Worsted Textiles employers are offering a 6.25% wage increase and the trade union is demanding an 8.5% increase.