* Workers opt to end strike, accept deal
* Prospect of strike end weighs on copper price momentum
* Codelco source says 2009 company output will be record (Recasts, updates with vote count)
CHUQUICAMATA MINE, Chile, Jan 5 (Reuters) - Workers at the world’s No. 2 copper mine, Chile’s Chuquicamata, voted on Tuesday to end a two-day strike and accept an improved wage offer from top global copper producer Codelco, a union leader at the ballot count said.
The end of the strike at Chuquicamata, which accounts for about 4 percent of the world’s mined copper, clears the decks of contract-related strike risks until the next round of major wage negotiations later this year. [ID:nN29182437]
Hilario Ramirez, a leader at one of Chuquicamata’s three unions, said a majority of workers had voted to end the strike. Another leader said workers would resume operations at 0800 GMT on Wednesday.
“Most of the workers have voted for the company’s offer,” Ramirez told Reuters as the ballot count showed workers chose to end the first strike since 1996 at the giant open pit mine.
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Global smelter output data:
The strike hit owner Codelco’s [CODEL.UL] production and helped buoy copper prices, though expectations of an imminent end to the stoppage kept a lid on price momentum on Tuesday.
Union leaders and strike leaders alike had expected workers to vote to end the strike. Unlike at the previous vote, there were no screams for “strike” at polling stations on Tuesday and no repeat of the volleys of tomatoes lobbed last week at union leaders, who were caught wrong-footed when workers voted to strike.
The stoppage came a fortnight before a Jan. 17 presidential election run-off in Chile, the world’s leading copper producer. The government was seen keen to defuse the protest for fear it could hurt its trailing candidate.
Codelco’s sweetened wage offer gives each worker bonuses worth around $24,000, nearly $6,000 in soft loans and raises their salaries by 4 percent. Workers could resume operations early on Wednesday, union leaders say.
Copper prices ended little changed on Tuesday, initially slipping as supply threats in Chile ebbed, then rebounding to end U.S. trading slightly higher on upbeat factory order data.
Benchmark copper MCU3 on the London Metal Exchange was last quoted at $7,485 a tonne from $7,500 a tonne at the close on Monday, when the metal used extensively in power and construction touched $7,536, the highest since August 2008.
Codelco sources have estimated losses at the Chuquicamata complex in far northern Chile, which includes the Chuquicamata and Mina Sur deposits, at 1,800 tonnes of copper output per day during the strike, costing the state around $8 million per day in lost revenue.
Chuquicamata was expected to produce 565,000 tonnes of copper in 2009.
A senior Codelco source said on Tuesday the state giant’s output would hit a record in 2009, beating 1.73 million tonnes hit in 2004. [ID:nN0573137]
The strike did not have much backing among Chileans, many of whom think Chuquicamata workers are asking too much from a state trying to claw out of its first recession in a decade, experts and a private poll say.
A drawn-out stoppage threatened to overshadow the achievements of the center-left coalition that has ruled for two decades and damage the election chances of the lagging government presidential candidate, former President Eduardo Frei.
That would have helped the center-right presidential front-runner, conservative billionaire Sebastian Pinera, who wants to sell up to 20 percent of Codelco and is seen attracting more mine union strife if he wins.
Strikes and stoppage threats have buffeted Chile in recent months as workers sought a bigger slice of windfall profits with copper prices rebounding from a steep slump in late 2008. (Editing by Simon Gardner)
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