(Adds comment on appeals process, context on production and
global supply disruptions)
LIMA, March 14 A strike at Peru's top copper
mine, Cerro Verde, may end next week if the labor ministry
declares it illegal, the head of the union said on Tuesday after
negotiations with owner Freeport-McMoRan Inc ended
without an agreement on labor demands.
Workers began the strike on Friday to demand better family
health benefits and a bigger share of the mine's profits, but
the ministry has issued a preliminary decision against the
stoppage that the union is appealing, Cerro Verde Union
President Zenon Mujica said on a phone call.
The appeals process will likely take about a week and
workers will have to go back to work if the ministry hands down
a final ruling against the strike, said Mujica.
Freeport-McMoRan did not immediately respond to requests for
Production at the mine, which churned out nearly 500,000
tonnes of copper last year, has fallen by 50 percent since some
1,300 of about 1,650 workers joined the strike, Mujica said.
News of a possible return to normal operations at Cerro
Verde could ease pressure on global copper prices as supply has
been disrupted by a labor stoppage at BHP Billiton's
Escondida mine in Chile and a dispute over export rights at
Freeport's Grasberg mine in Indonesia.
Mujica said Cerro Verde workers will vote this week on
whether to call for regionwide protests.
(Reporting by Mitra Taj and Marco Aquino; Editing by Richard