(New throughout, adds details, union comments; adds byline,
changes dateline, previous SANTIAGO)
By Felipe Iturrieta
ANTOFAGASTA, Chile, March 22 Leaders of the
striking union at BHP Billiton's Escondida mine
in Chile will meet with the rank-and-file before making any
additional decisions about negotiations, a union spokesman said
after exiting a meeting with BHP on Wednesday.
BHP and leaders of the 2,500-member union at Escondida, the
world's largest copper mine, left the meeting in the city of
Antofagasta without offering additional comment, or saying when
the parties would next sit down.
"No comment, we're going to meet with the base," union
spokesman Carlos Allendes told reporters.
Since workers walked off at the massive deposit on Feb. 9,
copper production has been stopped, sending global copper prices
higher amid supply concerns.
Talks have since been tense, and various attempts to return
to the negotiating table have failed.
The two parties finally returned to the table on Monday for the
first time in weeks, and met again on Wednesday
Earlier on Wednesday, BHP decided to suspend
work indefinitely at projects linked to Escondida, such as
construction work at its Coloso desalinization plant and its Los
Colorados concentrator, citing continued blockades by the union.
Throughout the process, workers have maintained three core
demands: that the benefits in the previous contract not be
reduced; that shift patterns not be made more taxing; and that
new workers get the same benefits as those already at the
The union has also said in recent days that it could invoke
an article of Chile's labor code that would stop the current
negotiations and send the miners back to work for 18 months
under the previous contract. They said that would allow them to
start negotiations again under new labor laws set to go into
effect in Chile in April, strengthening their hand.
Escondida is majority controlled by BHP, with minority
participations by Rio Tinto and Japanese
companies including Mitsubishi Corp. It produced
slightly more than 1 million tonnes of copper in 2016.
(Reporting by Felipe Iturrieta; Writing and additional
reporting by Gram Slattery in Santiago; Editing by David