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BHP´s Escondida mine in Chile offers early retirement package amid pandemic, union balks

SANTIAGO (Reuters) - Global miner BHP Group Ltd BHP.AX said on Wednesday its Escondida copper mine in Chile, the world's largest, had offered some workers the option for early retirement amid the coronavirus pandemic, a plan blasted by the company´s union as a scheme to oust the old and sick.

Escondida said in a statement to Reuters the offer would provide an “improved” package of retirement benefits to workers who met its “requirements.” The company declined to detail those stipulations.

But its powerful workers union said they were intended to entice the elderly and those with health conditions to retire early at a time when many still need to work. Government mandates have already required the most vulnerable workers be sidelined to protect their health.

“(BHP) is trying to try relieve itself of the burden of holding the jobs of the sick and elderly, who beyond ... retirement, will now be left unemployed,” the union said in a statement.

The union said it would closely monitor the plans to ensure they were not used as a pretext to eliminate workers during the pandemic. There are 2,372 unionized workers at the mine.

The dispute between BHP´s Escondida and its unionized workers comes as the coronavirus outbreak has exploded across much of Chile´s mine-rich northern desert. The South American nation has recorded more than 300,000 cases of the virus and upward of 6,500 deaths.

Mining Minister Baldo Prokurica has pleaded with mining companies to refrain from layoffs and protect the health of workers while maintaining output.

Escondida did not specify the number of workers it hopes will take the retirement option.

Reporting by Fabian Cambero; Writing by Dave Sherwood; Editing by Peter Cooney

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