| SANTIAGO, March 30
SANTIAGO, March 30 The failure of BHP Billiton
and workers at its Escondida mine to agree on a wage deal after
a long and bitter strike has stoked some concerns over the
possible fate of other key contract talks at copper mines in
Chile over the next year.
As global mining executives gather in Santiago for the
annual CRU World Copper Conference that begins on April 3, labor
relations will be a major topic of discussion.
Some companies and union officials were hopeful, telling
Reuters that the strike at Escondida will not necessarily
trigger a wave of industrial action elsewhere at BHP, the
world's top copper exporter.
Last week, the union at Escondida ended a historic 43-day
strike by temporarily extending its old contract, a result seen
as negative for BHP.
Workers at Peru's important Cerro Verde have also been on
Meanwhile, a cluster of other mines responsible for a
combined 6 percent of global copper output are due to negotiate
wage deals in Chile. Contract talks are scheduled this year,
including at Anglo American Plc and Glencore Plc's
Collahuasi and Antofagasta's Zaldivar. In both
cases, the two sides are already trying to find common ground.
"Collahuasi and its union leaders meet habitually to talk
about items of mutual interest, looking for the best option for
the company and its workers," Collahuasi spokeswoman Bernardita
Antofagasta, meanwhile, said it had preemptively agreed with
the Zaldivar union to a definition of the activities that can
continue at the mine in case of a union strike.
Both unions told Reuters last month that they had solid
relationships with their companies.
Their talks will likely take a different tack to
Escondida's, industry experts say.
"Escondida has unique conditions that evidently do not apply
to other mines, starting with the fact that it is twice as big,"
said a copper trader. It also has an unusually powerful union.
And some of the company provisions that upset the Escondida
union will no longer be up for negotiation. This Saturday, a
complex and wide-ranging new labor reform that strengthens the
hand of unions, passed last year by Chile's center-left
government, goes into effect.
Nonetheless, the tense talks at Escondida could have a
spillover effect, said the head of Zaldivar's main union, Raul
"We're close to the union leaders at Escondida, and we keep
up with what happens there," said Torres.
(Editing by Rosalba O'Brien and Bernadette Baum)