UPDATE 1-Striking union, BHP Billiton's Escondida mine to meet Monday
(Adds details throughout)
By Fabian CamberoSANTIAGO, March 20 (Reuters) - Striking workers at BHP
Billiton's <BLT.L><BHP.AX> Escondida copper mine in Chile, the
world's largest, said they will hold negotiations with the
company on Monday, but the union imposed a condition that it
will only discuss workers' three main demands.
Union members have also given union leaders authority to
walk away from negotiations and force a temporary, 18-month
contract, as permitted under Chilean law, it said.
"The position of the workers...will be to only discuss the
three points with the company that have stopped negotiations
during the 40 days of the strike," the union said in a statement
released to Reuters. The meeting will take place on Monday
BHP could not be immediately reached for comment.
The 2,500-member union at Escondida has been on strike since
Feb. 9, and production has been stopped since then, sending
global copper prices <CMCU3> higher amid supply concerns.
Workers have three core demands. First, benefits in the
existing contract must not be reduced. Second, work shifts may
not be made more taxing. And third, new workers must receive the
same benefits as those already at the mine.
On Thursday, the union invited the company to return to the
negotiating table, on the condition that BHP give a written
guarantee that talks would focus on the trio of demands.
The company agreed but was ambiguous about the demand to
discuss only the union's key issues. With the Monday decision,
union leaders decided to meet, with conditions attached.
Union leaders also said in the statement on Monday that they
had received approval from the rank-and-file to invoke Article
369 of Chile's labor code, if the leaders deem appropriate.
That article would legally halt the current negotiation
process and maintain the benefits of the current contract for 18
months, postponing collective wage talks.
Such an agreement is not often invoked by workers, as it
delays the one-time bonus typically given to miners when
contracts are inked.
However, the union said delaying the wage talks would allow
the next round of negotiations to occur under Chile's new labor
code, which is set to go into effect in April, giving the union
"This option allows us to avoid the plans of the company to
reduce benefits and remunerations," the union said.
Escondida produced slightly over 1 million tonnes of copper
in 2016. Rio Tinto <RIO.L><RIO.AX> and Japanese companies
including Mitsubishi <8058.T> have minority interests in the
(Reporting by Fabian Cambero; Writing by Gram Slattery; Editing
by Chizu Nomiyama and Cynthia Osterman)
Keywords: CHILE COPPER/ESCONDIDA (UPDATE 1, PIX)