SANTIAGO, Dec 7 (Reuters) - Workers at BHP Billiton-owned Escondida, the world's largest copper mine, expect to present the company with their proposal for a new collective contract and begin wage talks later this month, a union leader for the Chilean mine said on Wednesday.
"We expect by mid December to officially present the company our collective contract proposal, which is now ready after a long consultation process that allowed us to include the main demands of workers," said Patricio Tapia, president of Escondida's main union. The union represents 2,492 workers.
Wage talks at Escondida -- which is controlled by BHP Billiton with a 57.5 percent stake, while Rio Tinto owns 30 percent -- are seen as a benchmark for the copper industry at large.
The last wage talks four years ago, when copper prices were considerably higher, ended with Escondida offering each worker a bonus worth some $49,000, the highest ever offered in Chile's mining industry.
"It is a union that represents over 95 percent of the company's workers and as such there is no doubt that the results of the process that will start in coming days will mark the path of other negotiations in the mining sector in 2017," said Gustavo Tapia, the head of Chile's Mining Federation umbrella union organization.
Wage talks have already begun at Chilean state-owned Codelco's Chuquicamata copper mine, also seen as a bellwether for the industry and a precursor of other contract negotiations due in coming months. (Reporting by Anthony Esposito; Editing by Marguerita Choy)