Talks Suspended at Chilean Copper Mine

Talks Suspended at Chilean Copper Mine

Thursday, August 10th 2006

Striking workers at the world’s largest privately owned copper mine said Wednesday they have broken off talks aimed at ending a three-day stoppage because the company has not sweetened its contract offer.

But a company spokesman said the talks would likely resume Thursday.

Pedro Marin, a spokesman for the 2,052-member union at Escondida mine, said talks between the union and mine owners scheduled for Wednesday were canceled after the company failed to improve on its contract proposal.

“We will not resume talks unless the company shows a different stance, a different approach,” Marin told the Associated Press by telephone from Antofagasta, 1,120 miles north of the capital, Santiago.

He said a meeting late Tuesday was fruitless, “a joke, because the company tried to explain to us the same contract proposal” that had already been rejected by the union.

Company spokesman Mauro Valdes, however, said he expects talks to resume as early as Thursday.

“We received a call from union leaders saying they wanted a postponement of today’s meeting because they were busy preparing for the celebration of the Miner’s Day,” Valdes told the AP. Thursday is Miner’s Day in Chile.

Valdes did not comment on the union’s contract demands.

President Michelle Bachelet said Wednesday that she expects an early solution will be found “within the framework of Chile’s legislation.”

Several striking workers briefly blocked the road leading to Escondida and other mines in the region Wednesday with rocks and burning tires.

The company’s latest offer, which it called final, calls for a 3 percent salary increase and a one-time bonus of 8.5 million pesos ($17,000), plus 3 million peso ($5,500) in low-interest loans.

The workers are seeking 13 percent wage increase and a bonus of 16 million pesos ($29,200).

The strike started early Monday and has already reduced the company’s production by 60 percent. Normally, Escondida produces 4 tons of copper a day, or 23.5 percent of Chile’s total output and nearly 8 percent of world production. Chile is the world’s largest copper exporter.

The Australian-British consortium BHP Billiton Ltd. controls 57 percent stake at the mine.

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