SANTIAGO – The Chilean firm that operates the world’s largest copper mine agreed on Friday to meet with the leaders of more than 2,500 miners who have been on strike for 37 days.
Minera Escondida’s president, Marcelo Castillo, expressed appreciation for the offer of “face-to-face” talks that the union extended earlier Friday.
Miners at La Escondida, which lies in the Atacama Desert, 1,130 kilometers (700 miles) north of Santiago, walked off the job on Feb. 9.
Friday’s statement from the union called for negotiations on three main issues: equitable scheduling; maintaining the financial terms of the previous collective bargaining agreement; and treating new hires the same as existing employees in terms of pay and benefits.
“We believe that the company’s response will determine the course of the collective bargaining, without ruling out any of the options provided for in our legal process,” the union said.
Minera Escondida, which is majority owned by Anglo-Australian mining giant BHP Billiton, has proposed a meeting Monday afternoon at the labor ministry, Castillo told a press conference.
Management plans to present a new contract proposal at the meeting, he said.
The workers say the company’s initial proposal would entail a 14.5 percent reduction in their salaries and benefits and discriminate against new hires.
Unionized workers currently earn salaries of around $2,500 a month.
The miners are demanding a 7 percent pay hike, as well as a bonus of around 25 million pesos (some $37,800) per worker; they also want the same benefits received by veteran employees to be extended to new hires.
Joaquin Villarino, the chairman of the mining industry council, told Radio Cooperativa earlier Friday that the strike has resulted in $700 million in lost sales.
“Escondida produces 20 percent of Chilean copper and 6 percent of copper at the global level,” he said.