* Strike started on July 2
* Stoppage follows highly damaging 5-month platinum strike
* Hopes have been raised that strike will soon end (Recasts with unions weighing offer)
JOHANNESBURG, July 22 (Reuters) - South Africa’s largest union will consider the latest government wage proposal, it said on Tuesday, raising hopes of an end to a three-week strike in the metals and engineering sectors that has sapped the continent’s most advanced economy.
“We will look at the offer this afternoon,” Irvin Jim, the general secretary of the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA), told Reuters. Over 200,000 NUMSA members downed tools on July 2.
Gideon du Plessis, general secretary of the Solidarity union, told Reuters that NUMSA and four other smaller unions which have joined the strike had agreed to consider the latest offer with their members and leadership committees.
Solidarity, which mostly represents skilled workers, has not been on strike but was present at Tuesday’s talks.
South Africa’s main metals employer body earlier said it had “reluctantly” accepted the government proposal.
The Steel and Engineering Industries Federation of South Africa (SEIFSA) said striking unions had until Friday to accept the offer, which it warned could lead to heavy job losses.
The stoppage has disrupted the supply of car parts and affected construction work at two crucial power stations for state utility Eskom.
Under the proposal put forward by Labour Minister Mildred Oliphant, SEIFSA agreed to raise wages by between 7 percent and 10 percent over the next three years.
This would “inevitably lead to massive job losses” as companies sought to cut costs because they would not be able to pass on the increases to their customers, SEIFSA Chief Executive Kaizer Nyatsumba said in a statement.
The Federation also said it would not sign the agreement unless parts of South Africa’s current wage negotiation guidelines were amended to scrap two-tier bargaining at the plant and national level.
The industrial action has dealt a further blow to the ailing South African economy, coming almost immediately after a five-month strike by miners in the platinum sector. (Reporting by Tiisetso Motsoeneng, Ed Stoddard and Xola Potelwa; Editing by David Evans)