(Adds Escondida comment)
By Fabian Cambero
SANTIAGO, March 10 Chile's Escondida copper
mine, the largest in the world, has invited its union to resume
talks as a first step towards ending a month-long strike, it
The strike, which began Feb.9 and has lasted for 30 days, is
the longest in Escondida's history. With stoppages also in place
at other important copper mines worldwide, global copper prices
have risen on tighter supply expectations.
"The company is insistent in its call to the union to
restart talks, in order to arrive at a deal that will allow the
strike to end as soon as possible," Escondida said in a
statement late Friday.
Escondida, controlled by BHP Billiton , has
spoken to the union and is preparing a new contract offer that
seeks to address some of their concerns, a source with knowledge
of the situation told Reuters, without giving details on the
The union did not give an immediate response to Escondida's
statement. Union spokesman Carlos Allendes said earlier Friday
that the company had not been in contact with the union.
The company has the right to use temporary replacement
workers, but has previously said it would not exercise that
right for the first 30 days, as it seeks to keep a lid on
It said Friday it "would evaluate day by day" whether it may
begin to use temporary workers. However, there were no
immediate plans to do so, the source said.
After 30 days, workers can also break from the union and
individually agree to accept the company offer. But the strikers
remained determined to push for a good deal, Allendes said, and
were unlikely to take the bait.
When Escondida does restart, the initial focus will be on
maintenance and projects such as the construction of a
desalination plant and concentrator expansion, Escondida said.
"We are not thinking of producing from day one," said corporate
affairs head Patricio Vilaplana.
Escondida produced over 1 million tonnes of copper last
year, around 5 percent of the world's total, and economists are
expecting an impact to Chile's economy in February as a result
of the strike, which has meant that no copper is leaving the
Contract talks collapsed after the union and company
disagreed on a number of points, including the treatment of new
workers, changes to shift patterns, and the level of a one-off
Rio Tinto and Japanese companies including
Mitsubishi Corp hold minority interests in the mine.
(Reporting by Fabian Cambero, Writing by Rosalba O'Brien;
Editing by Andrew Hay and Diane Craft)