| SANTIAGO, March 8
SANTIAGO, March 8 BHP Billiton
may try to restart production at the world's No.1 copper mine
Escondida in Chile using temporary workers once the strike
surpasses 30 days, the company told a local radio station on
If their safety could be assured "there is the option of
using contractors' help to try to get production going" and it
will be evaluated day by day, Escondida's corporate affairs
director Patricio Vilaplana told Teletrece in an interview.
Local media reported that the company is considering a
two-pronged approach as the strike approaches the 30-day mark on
Friday - submitting a new contract offer that deals with some of
the union's concerns, and restarting output.
BHP declined to comment.
The strike is already the longest in Escondida's history,
boosting global copper prices on tighter supply
expectations and leading smelters to cut fees. The mine produced
over 1 million tonnes of copper last year, around 5 percent of
the world's total.
The union is confident the bulk of its 2,500 members will
not break ranks and accept an offer from the company, said union
spokesman Carlos Allendes. After 30 days, under Chilean law,
unionized workers have the right to break from the union
position and accept the company offer.
The two sides still seem far apart after government-mediated
negotiations last month failed after a few hours.
No fresh talks are scheduled, Chile's Mining Minister Aurora
Williams told Reuters on the sidelines of a mining conference in
Toronto this week.
"(The government) is available at all times. However, there
needs to be the willingness from both parties to sit down and
have a discussion," she said.
The stoppage began on Feb. 9 after contract talks between
the company and union collapsed, with the main disagreements
centered on the status of new workers and planned changes to
shifts and benefits.
BHP has previously said it would not use replacement labor
for the first 30 days, as it has sought to keep a lid on
simmering tensions and avoid violent clashes.
Few striking workers are expected to cross picket lines and
work alongside temporary contractors, given that over 99 percent
of the unionized workers initially voted to strike, an unusually
high level of support.
The union has built a camp for striking workers complete
with cinema and sports arena high in the Atacama Desert on the
mine's outskirts, and union leaders have said they have the
funds to continue for some time.
"What's keeping the workers going at the moment? The
perception that they're going to lose and job security will be
in doubt ... that makes you think twice if you want to go back,"
(Reporting by Fabian Cambero in Santiago, additional reporting
by Rod Nickel in Toronto, Writing by Rosalba O'Brien; Editing by