SANTIAGO – A scheduled government-mediated meeting between management and striking workers at northern Chile’s La Escondida, the world’s biggest copper mine, has been postponed, officials said.
No new date has been set for the meeting, which had been slated for Wednesday in the port city of Antofagasta.
“We’re a bit hurt because we’d come down from the camp set up outside the mine site because supposedly we were going to that meeting, before the company said it couldn’t,” union spokesman Carlos Allendes said. “First it said yes and then it said it couldn’t.”
But a spokesperson for the mining company, Minera Escondida, said the problem was the inability to agree on a precise time for the meeting.
Deputy Labor Secretary Francisco Diaz said for his part in an interview with T13 radio that both sides had shown the necessary willingness to sit down and find a negotiated solution and that he expected a meeting would take place soon.
Union leaders, meanwhile, were preparing to travel to Santiago for a meeting on Thursday with Labor Ministry officials.
Both the union and the company say they want to promote a dialogue.
Minera Escondida, however, also has sued the striking miners, accusing them of not providing enough workers for basic maintenance and safety functions at the mine, located 170 kilometers (105 miles) from Antofagasta.
About 2,500 workers at the BHP Billiton-controlled mine went on strike on Feb. 9 after union negotiators and management failed to reach a new collective bargaining agreement (CBA).
The union is demanding a three-year contract that, among other things, would include a 7 percent pay hike, a 25-million-peso ($38,460) bonus per worker and equal benefits for new operators.
But Minera Escondida, which has been hit by a steep drop in global copper prices since the last CBA was reached four years ago, offered a four-year contract with a bonus of just 8 million pesos ($12,300) per worker, no wage increase and a reduction in some benefits.
La Escondida, the world’s biggest copper mine with average output of roughly 100,000 tons of the red metal per month, is 57.5 percent owned by Anglo-Australian mining titan BHP Billiton.
London-based mining giant Rio Tinto and Japan’s Jeco Corporation have minority stakes in the mine.