Union at Escondida mine in Chile asks members to prepare for strike

Striking workers gather at Escondida entrance in March 2017. Archive image

The union representing workers at Chile’s Escondida copper mine, the world’s largest, on Thursday instructed its members to prepare for a strike due to slow progress in contract talks being mediated by the government.

More than 2,000 union members rejected owner BHP Group Ltd’s latest contract offer at the end of last week. Local law requires five days of mediation after a contract is rejected, followed by a possible five-day extension if a deal cannot be reached.

“The proposal has not changed substantively and remains far from meeting the needed improvements,” the union said in a statement to its members.

“We call on you to maintain unity and discipline and to be prepared to face the scenario of an eventual strike,” it said.

BHP said in a statement to Reuters that it had made improvements to its offer and hoped to get closer to a deal.

“On Wednesday the company made a proposal with substantial improvements, which includes the issues raised by the union. We are awaiting a response. We trust that this offer will bring positions closer to formalizing an agreement,” it said.

The negotiations are being carried out at a time of high copper prices brought by expectations of a global economic recovery. Chile is the world’s top copper producer.

(By Fabian Cambero and Hugh Bronstein; Editing by Richard Pullin)

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