January 15, 2013 / 1:00 PM / in 5 years

Chile Escondida workers to vote on contract in coming days

SANTIAGO, Jan 15 (Reuters) - Workers at Escondida, the world’s largest copper deposit, will vote on a new contract in the coming days, a union leader told Reuters on Tuesday, after rejecting a previous offer in December.

If the proposal is accepted this time around, Escondida, controlled by BHP Billiton , will sign a fresh wage deal and soothe fears of labor action.

If workers again turn down the offer, the process of early contract talks will be considered terminated and the standard negotiation process will begin at mid-year in the run-up to the contract’s expiration on July 31.

“(The proposal) entails a 5 percent nominal (salary) readjustment and bonuses for a total of 23 million pesos (around US$48,665),” per worker, Jaime Tejada, the union’s treasurer, told Reuters.

BHP declined to comment.

Escondida’s union stunned the copper market in 2011 by staging a two-week strike, sending the mine’s output tumbling and raising the specter of an increase in labor action.

Workers at the giant Chuquicamata mine, owned by Chile’s state-run copper firm Codelco, said in December they had accepted a wage offer, soothing fears of labor unrest. Chile is the world No. 1 copper producer.

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.

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