Escondida accepts union olive branch to restart talks

Friday, March 17, 2017

Talks aimed at ending a more than month-old strike at Chile's giant Escondida copper mine could resume Monday after management accepted a union invitation to return to the negotiating table.

The union representing the more than 2,500 striking workers issued a letter Friday inviting management to meet again in an effort to reach a deal.

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The invitation came as the work stoppage entered day 37 at what is the world's largest copper mine, and after workers rejected an invitation on Monday from the company to restart talks.

Escondida accepted the union invitation, its president Marcelo Castillo told reporters Friday afternoon, adding that the meeting could take place as soon as Monday.

Castillo said that as a show of the company's willingness to put an end to the strike, it presented labor authorities with a new collective contract offer, which includes housing and health benefits, as well as an inflation-linked wage increase and an 11.5mn-peso (US$17,400) end-on-conflict bonus.

The company's previous offer in January included no wage increase and an 8mn-peso bonus, while workers were asking for a 7% raise and a 25mn-peso bonus.

In its letter, the union asks the company to resume talks firstly on three points that workers consider key: maintaining some monetary benefits, issues related to working hours and no discrimination in benefits for veteran and new workers.

The union wants to address these issues first in order to establish the basis for the negotiation of other aspects of the collective contract, the letter said.

The ongoing work stoppage has removed from the market some 175,000t of copper, according to Barclays.

Minera Escondida, which produced 1Mt of copper in 2016, is controlled by BHP Billiton with a 57.5% interest, while Rio Tinto owns 30% and two Mitsubishi-led consortiums have the remainder.