| ANTOFAGASTA, Chile
ANTOFAGASTA, Chile Feb 10 Striking workers at
BHP Billiton's Escondida copper mine in Chile
girded for a prolonged stand-off with the company on Friday, as
the work stoppage at the world's largest copper mine entered its
second day and copper prices jumped on talk of BHP declaring
Workers in the 2,500-member Escondida Union No. 1 downed
tools early Thursday after talks with the company failed,
beginning a strike that threatens to imminently affect supplies
for one of the most widely used industrial metals in the
Copper prices on the London Metal Exchange,
meanwhile, jumped 4 percent on Friday to a session high of
$6,056 per tonne, on force majeure talk. A BHP
spokesman said he was unable to immediately confirm that force
majeure had been declared on copper shipments from Escondida.
The strikers are building an encampment outside the mine and
for the moment the union appears far from reaching an agreement
with the company.
"We're continuing with our installation, with the
construction (of the encampment)," said union spokesman Carlos
Allendes. "We're in the organization process and we're improving
Work at the camp, which is located on a windy, barren
plateau some 10,170 feet (3,100 meters) above sea level, started
on Thursday and the strikers now are putting in semi-permanent
installations, such as bathrooms and sleeping
They say the last offer by the company reduced benefits from
the last collective contract four years ago and they say
provisions offered by BHP, which would give new workers less
benefits than those who have been at the mine for some time, are
BHP, which has said it will not produce copper for the first
15 days of the strike, said its focus during this period is
maintaining minimum services, which consist of small teams of
workers maintaining equipment and making sure the mine adheres
to environmental protocols.
It also will continue with investment projects, it said.
Three workers doing expansion work at the company's Los
Colorados concentrator, one of the investment projects where
work has not stopped, were injured in a fire early on Friday,
the company said. It is being investigated.
Fears of a strike at Escondida, which produced 1.15 million
tonnes of copper in 2015, had already pushed up copper prices in
recent weeks amid concerns about a supply disruption. The metal
was trading at $6,060 per tonne at 12:07 p.m. local time (1507
GMT), near 1-1/2-year highs.
Escondida is majority-controlled by BHP, with Rio Tinto
and Japan's JECO also holding stakes.
(Reporting by Fabian Cambero; Writing by Gram Slattery; Editing
by Bill Trott)