* Union says BHP's initial proposal "insufficient"
* Strike seen unlikely as law prohibits early walkout
By Anthony Esposito
SANTIAGO, Dec 26 Workers at the world's biggest
copper mine, Chile's Escondida, have rejected an early pay offer
made by mine controller BHP Billiton, a union leader
said on Wednesday.
The risk of a strike appears remote, however, because it is
illegal to go on strike in Chile before official pay talks have
begun. Collective contract negotiations at Escondida are due to
take place after the current contract expires in June 2013.
"Workers rejected the company's proposal as they considered
it insufficient," union secretary Marcelo Tapia told Reuters.
"This was an invitation by the company to have early
collective negotiations, which should actually happen in July
2013. We're going to officially inform them on Dec. 28 of
workers' rejection of their proposal," he added.
BHP was not immediately available to comment. No details
were available on the company's proposal or the union's demands.
If no early wage offer is accepted, workers and the company
will sit down for wage talks as scheduled next year.
Escondida's union stunned the copper market last year by
staging a two-week strike, sending the mine's output tumbling
and raising the specter of an increase in labor action.
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.
Earlier this month, workers at the giant Chuquicamata mine
of Chile's state-run copper firm Codelco accepted a
wage offer with the company.