South Africa’s largest union on Thursday warned of an imminent strike that could hit the country’s struggling manufacturing sector, amid a deadlock over wage increases.

More than 200 000 members of the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) are expected to down tools on July 1, piling more pressure on the economy which shrank by 0.6 percent in the first quarter of this year.

That contraction, the first time since the global crisis five years ago, was blamed largely on a slump in the mining sector on the back of a five-month platinum strike, and a significant drop in manufacturing.

“The anticipated strike is due to the fact that the employers in the industry have arrogantly failed to meet our demands,” said Numsa general secretary Irvin Jim.

The union wants a 15-percent annual wage increase, saying the lowest-paid job in the country’s mega construction projects earn R3050 a month.

Numsa declared a dispute on May 30, after failing to reach an agreement with the employers in the engineering and metals sector.

A large number of Numsa members are employed in the key auto manufacturing and components sector, which suffered stoppages last year.

The union’s Jim said the expected strike was going to “exert pressure on the economy”.

“The impact will be huge,” he said, adding that the dispute was “purely because …we have exhausted all possible avenues for employers to concede to our demands.”

The union, which recently severed ties with the ruling African National Congress, threw its support for the crippling strike by 80 000 platinum mineworkers, now in its fifth month.

Despite its tough pro-strike rhetoric the union insisted that it was still open to talks and that members will only down tools as a last resort.

Some of the sectors to be heavily affected by the strike would be the electrical engineering, telecommunications, automotive components and and plastic fabrication industries.