The National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) says it is deadlocked over pay with gold producers after numerous rounds of negotiations.
The dispute will be referred to the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) and sets the path towards a legal, protected strike, the NUM said in an e-mailed statement on Tuesday.
The union has had seven meetings since pay talks started last month with gold producers including Sibanye Gold and AngloGold Ashanti, NUM general secretary David Sipunzi said.
"We have reached a stage whereby we understand that the employers are not prepared to give a better offer to the employees," he said.
SA’s gold mines are the world’s deepest and among the most labour-intensive, leaving producers struggling to reduce costs.
The companies involved in the collective bargaining directly employ about 80,000 workers, according to the Minerals Council SA, the producer lobby group that replaced the Chamber of Mines.
The NUM is demanding R9,450 a month for surface workers, R10,450 for underground workers and a 14.5% increase for miners, artisans and officials.
The Solidarity union also rejected the latest offers "in principle", but will continue with negotiations, it said in a separate e-mailed statement.