SANTIAGO Feb 27 A strike at the Escondida
copper mine in Chile, the world's largest, appeared far from
ending on Monday as the conflict neared its third week, with the
union denying a news report that it had returned to talks with
mine owner BHP Billiton.
Escondida's approximately 2,500 workers began a strike on
Feb. 9 after contract talks with BHP failed,
pushing global copper prices higher on expectations of
The mine produced about 5 percent of the world's copper in
Last week, the two sides briefly returned to the table for
government-mediated talks, though the discussions ended after
The union told Reuters on Monday it had not been approached
about resuming talks and denied a report quoting the BHP chief
executive officer saying the two sides were back at the table.
Relations have been frosty, with BHP accusing the union of
preventing non-union maintenance workers from entering the mine,
and the union saying that BHP has failed to make back payments
"That's the way the company starts to insult the workers, to
scare and pressure them, and leave them without money ... That
is making workers angry," union spokesman Carlos Allendes said.
BHP has said that it would pay the money that is owed once
the strike ends, in accordance with Chilean law.
The workers have continued construction of a camp set up
outside Escondida in Chile's barren high desert, which the union
says will provide comfortable conditions in the event of a
prolonged strike. In recent days, they have built a basic movie
theater and sporting arena.
BHP will not replace striking workers for at least the first
30 days of the work stoppage to show that it is committed to
negotiations, according to the company.
Under Chilean law, unionized workers can cross the picket
line and individually accept the company's contract offer after
30 days on strike, potentially weakening the union's hand.
The contract talks relate to pay, bonuses and other
conditions, with disagreement principally over the status of new
workers and proposed changes to shifts and benefits.
Escondida is majority-controlled by BHP with Rio Tinto
and Japanese companies including Mitsubishi Corp
holding minority interests.
(Writing by Gram Slattery; Editing by Rosalba O'Brien and