| ESCONDIDA MINE, Chile, March 24
ESCONDIDA MINE, Chile, March 24 With no bonus,
and no salary rise, it was not the ending the 2,500 workers at
Chile's Escondida, the world's largest copper mine, wanted. But
keeping their benefits was still a victory of sorts for them
after the longest strike in the country's mining history.
As they packed up the camp on the mine's outskirts in the
dusty, high altitude desert that has been their home for the
last 44 days, workers said in interviews on Friday they were
satisfied with the outcome.
"It's been tiring, the showers were cold and obviously we
missed home comforts, but here we were all the same, standing
firm," supply operator Luis Varas said, as he took down his tent
and shook out the dust.
The strike at Escondida, which produced over 1 million
tonnes of copper, or 5 percent of the world's supply, last year,
began on Feb. 9, after mine operator BHP Billiton
and the union failed to agree on new contract terms.
Key points of disagreement focused on changes the company
wanted to make to benefits and work shifts and whether new
employees should earn the same benefits, such as comprehensive
private healthcare, as existing ones. A two-tier benefits system
might have wound up weakening the union, one of Chile's most
On Thursday, after repeated attempts at returning to
negotiations failed, the workers ended the deadlock after they
triggered a rarely used legal provision that will allow them to
extend their old contract for 18 months.
That means they will enjoy existing benefits and working
conditions and hold the next talks under an upcoming labor law
that strengthens their hand.
But they will also lose out on any pay raise and on a bonus
typically paid when the contract is signed. The union had asked
for a bonus of $38,000.
"You can spend the bonus in a few days, but we have some
people with health problems. ... That (health insurance) benefit
is much more important and it wasn't lost," said equipment
maintenance worker Jorge Salinas. "It's not all about money."
On Saturday, miners will return to their posts, with initial
work focusing on safety procedures and rehabilitation of shared
Escondida President Marcelo Castillo said on Thursday that
it could take as long as eight months to get operations back to
how they were before the strike began.
The miners striking camp said it was a dignified exit.
"We're happy to be going home, to be with our families,"
said Varas. "Now a new stage begins."
(Reporting by Felipe Iturrieta; Writing by Rosalba O'Brien;
Editing by Richard Chang)