(Adds BHP agreement to attend meeting, comments from union)
SANTIAGO/ANTOFAGASTA Feb 14 Striking workers at
Chile's massive Escondida copper mine and mine operator BHP
Billiton said they have agreed to renew talks on Wednesday,
helping to ease a copper price rally on hopes of an early
settlement to the six-day stoppage.
Carlos Allendes, leader of the 2,500-strong member union,
said on Tuesday it had received and accepted an invitation from
the government's labor directorate to meet with BHP.
Late Tuesday, BHP confirmed in a statement
that it, too, would return to the table.
News of a possible resolution of the conflict weighed on
copper prices on Tuesday, traders said. Expectations of
an extended stoppage at the world's biggest copper mine have
helped drive copper prices to over 20-month highs since talks
failed last month.
"We hope that the procedure ... allows the parties to come
closer and for the strike to be resolved as soon as possible,"
government spokeswoman Paula Narvaez told journalists in
A return to talks has been complicated by the company's
accusations that the early days of the strike were marred by
vandalism and threats.
BHP said it had filed criminal complaints over the vandalism
with local prosecutors. It was also disputing whether the union
had provided enough workers to ensure minimum safety
requirements, as legally required.
The union has maintained that it acted in good faith and
said the company was employing distraction tactics.
Although the government of the world's top copper exporter
is keen for a quick resolution, the two sides were far apart
when talks ended in failure earlier this month.
"The decision to begin negotiations we have taken
responsibly and for the good of all, including our country, but
we are capable of maintaining a strong stance and are prepared
to face the longest strike in recent history," the union said in
a statement on Tuesday.
The workers are demanding a significantly higher salary
increase and bonus than the company has said it could offer.
There also is a dispute over whether new and longtime employees
should be on equal footing.
Escondida, majority-controlled by BHP with minority
participations by Rio Tinto and Japanese
companies including Mitsubishi Corp, produced over 1
million tonnes of copper, about 5 percent of the world's total,
(Reporting by Felipe Iturrieta, Fabian Cambero and Rosalba
O'Brien, Editing by Bill Trott and Richard Chang)