* Early talks seen improving chances of new deal
* World's No. 1 copper mine hit by labor action last year
* Escondida produced 787,000 tonnes of copper Jan-Sept
SANTIAGO, Nov 27 Unionized workers at the
world's No.1 copper mine, Chile's Escondida, have voted in favor
of early labor talks with the mine's controller, global miner
BHP Billiton, a union leader told Reuters on Tuesday.
Escondida's union stunned the copper market last year by
staging a two-week strike, which sent the mine's output tumbling
and raised the specter of an increase in labor action. Holding
early talks this year suggests improved chances that the firm
and workers can clinch a deal.
"We were invited by the company (to hold negotiations) and
the workers accepted," Marcelo Tapia, a union leader at
Escondida, told Reuters.
BHP declined to comment. Escondida's labor contract is set
to expire next June.
BHP and Rio Tinto, which owns 30 percent of
the mine, have approved plans for a $4.5 billion expansion of
Escondida to boost output.
Escondida's third-quarter output surged 72.4 percent from a
year earlier to 253,800 tonnes, boosted by better ore grades and
a low base of comparison from the year-ago quarter. Output in
the January-September period was 787,000 tonnes, up 31.6 percent
from a year earlier.
The mining industry in Chile, the world's leading copper
producer, is also bracing for collective negotiations at state
copper producer Codelco's massive Chuquicamata mine. Most
unionized workers at the century-old deposit have voted to start
early contract negotiations, a union source told Reuters earlier