(Adds union comment)
SANTIAGO, March 14 The Escondida copper mine in
Chile plans to restart operations after striking workers again
rejected an invitation by controlling owner BHP Billiton
to return to negotiations, an executive told reporters
The world's largest copper mine will first resume work in
two areas of the mine that are unrelated to the current talks,
Escondida Mine President Marcelo Castillo said at a news
conference in the city of Antofagasta.
The company will then begin to do additional maintenance
work, before finally re-establishing mining operations and
restarting copper production.
"We hope that in some way opportunities for dialogue come
about...but with the posture that we saw yesterday (from the
union) and that all of you saw yesterday, it's difficult to be
able to hope for a conversation in the short term," Castillo
Under Chilean law the mine was allowed to hire temporary
workers 15 days after the strike started on Feb. 9, but had said
it would wait for 30 days to show its commitment to dialogue.
Tuesday marked day 34 of the strike.
In response to BHP's statement late Tuesday, the union said
it was taking a level-headed approach to the latest development.
"We are calm, and we are reviewing the (company's)
statements with calm," a union spokesman told Reuters.
Copper production has been halted since the 2,500-member
union went on strike. On Monday, workers rejected a company
invitation to return to the table, saying the invitation did not
take into account workers' pre-conditions for dialogue.
Union demands include that BHP agrees not to trim benefits
in the existing contract, that shift patterns should not be made
more taxing for workers, and new workers be offered the same
benefits as those already employed at the mine.
It was the third failed attempt to restart dialogue during
the strike, which has pushed global copper prices higher
due to supply concerns.
On Friday, BHP invited the union to return to negotiations,
but the union rejected that invitation on the same
Throughout the process, negotiations have been tense, with
the company at times accusing the union of violence, and the
replacement of workers could lead to additional confrontation.
Escondida produced slightly more than 1 million tonnes of
copper in 2016, making it the world's largest copper mine.
Rio Tinto and Japanese companies such as
Mitsubishi Corp hold minority interests in the mine.
(Reporting by Fabian Cambero; Writing and additional reporting
by Gram Slattery; Editing by Bernadette Baum and Lisa Shumaker)