Workers at BHP's Escondida mine in Chile reject offer, threaten strike

FILE PHOTO: A view of the BHP Billiton's Escondida, the world's biggest copper mine, in northern Chile, in Antofagasta, Chile March 31, 2008. REUTERS/Ivan Alvarado//File Photo

SANTIAGO (Reuters) -Some 2,000 workers at Chile’s Escondida mine, the world’s largest copper deposit, have turned down BHP’s offer to settle a labor dispute and could stop work on Nov. 28 and 30 if their demands are not met, their union said on Thursday.

BHP announced earlier this week that it had reached a deal with the union to avert a work stoppage over safety issues, but the agreement had to be ratified by the workers represented by the Sindicato No. 1 union at the Australian company’s mine in northern Chile.

“The assemblies together with the board of directors decided to reject the company’s proposal,” the union said in a statement, adding that its members considered proposed security measures to be “insufficient” and wanted “concrete and verifiable” measures like joint inspections of work areas.

“In addition, immediate compliance with other measures due to legal violations will be insisted on,” the statement said. “In the event that these requirements are not accepted, the Union will carry out the strike on Monday, November 28 and Wednesday, November 30, 2022.”

In a statement, the company said a stoppage is unfounded and “harmful to everyone.”

“Contingency plans have already been activated,” the statement said, adding that it will apply “measures corresponding with current labor regulations” if the union continues “forceful action.”

The union members presented a request for various hygiene and safety measures that include verification of environmental conditions in workplaces, availability of personal protection equipment and more.

The union said the company offered a bonus equivalent to about $3,100 per worker and to regularize an operating practice that was not included in the current collective agreement.

BHP and the powerful union have clashed on several occasions. In 2017, workers staged a strike lasting more than 40 days in the middle of a contract negotiation.

Reporting by Fabian Cambero; Editing by Daniel Wallis, Sandra Maler and Paul Simao