Mine unions spurned the gold industry's new 5.5% wage hike offer on Tuesday, once again threatening strikes in the struggling key economic sector.
The powerful National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), which represents over 64% of workers, and smaller grouping Solidarity said the improved deal was unacceptable.
"We think they're making a joke of themselves," NUM spokesperson Lesiba Seshoka told Agence France-Presse.
The looming August 24-deadline for a settlement meant both sides needed to make concessions, according to Solidarity general secretary Gideon du Plessis.
"The employers will have to offer more than what is budgeted for," he said in a statement.
"Unions will have to get a mandate from their members to demand less than what our members' current expectations are to avoid a strike," Du Plessis added.
Gold companies raised their offer from five to 5.5% for wages and living allowance.
"At an entry level, this increase translates into a guaranteed pay of R9.095 per month," the Chamber of Mines said in a statement.
The industry also mooted a gain share arrangement that could add 1% to basic wages.
But the NUM has demanded 60% increases and its rival, the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu), 150%.
Workers would down tools if talks that continue next week fail, said the NUM's Seshoka.
"If we don't agree … we'll issue a statement of non-resolution. That means we can go on strike."
The deadlock occurs in the week South Africa commemorates police shooting dead 34 strikers at Lonmin's platinum mine in Marikana on August 16 last year.
Once the world's largest gold producer, South Africa's mining sector has been pummelled by chronic underinvestment and poor labour relations. – AFP