(Adds union leader's comments, background details)
By Anthony Esposito and Antonio De la Jara
SANTIAGO Jan 4 Workers at BHP Billiton-owned
Escondida, the world's biggest copper mine,
could go on strike in February if collective contract talks with
the company are unsuccessful, union spokesman Carlos Allende
told Reuters on Wednesday.
The warning came after the company rejected all the workers'
demands, Allende said. He said the proposal the company
presented would cut the benefits workers receive in their
"With this attitude the only thing the company is doing is
creating an open conflict because the demands were agreed on by
the workers," said Allende.
BHP Billiton said in a statement that its proposal
"maintained almost all of the benefits of the current contract,
adjusting it to the current reality of the company, industry and
The company said it hoped to reach a mutual agreement during
Labor talks at Escondida 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.
"The company slapped all of the workers in the face ... and
if it doesn't change its attitude I imagine that we could very
easily go on strike," said Allende.
According to Chilean labor law, the company and workers have
a few more weeks to carry out direct talks and if those fail
they can then request government mediation.
Escondida is controlled by BHP Billiton with a 57.5 percent
stake, while Rio Tinto owns 30 percent.
(Reporting by Anthony Esposito and Antonio de la Jara; Editing
by Alistair Bell)