February 20, 2017 / 6:24 PM / 3 years ago

Government-mediated talks between Escondida union, BHP fail

Workers from BHP Billiton's Escondida, the world's biggest copper mine, gather outside the company gates during a strike, in Antofagasta, Chile February 10, 2017. REUTERS/Juan Ricardo

SANTIAGO (Reuters) - A government-mediated meeting between BHP Billiton and striking workers at its Escondida copper mine in Chile has failed, and workers will head back to their encampment without any future dialogue planned, a union spokesman said on Monday.

“The company is continuing with their stubborn posture, and thus there is nothing to discuss anymore and we’re going back to our camp,” spokesman Carlos Allendes told Reuters after the meeting.

BHP was not immediately available for comment.

The meeting, in the Chilean capital Santiago, was called by the government’s Labor Ministry in hopes of ending a 12-day strike that has pushed copper prices to 20-month highs amid supply concerns. The metal was trading at $6,070 per tonne at 7:38 p.m. (2239 GMT).

The sitdown was aimed at getting the two sides to commit to a schedule of fresh wage talks, after initial negotiations failed.

For days, however, it was unclear if the meeting would even take place as BHP blamed striking workers for interfering with non-unionized service employees on their shift changes.

The union had said in response that there were no blockades and that the buses with the contractors were allowed through, but that workers had checked that no strike-breakers were entering the mine.

In terms of demands, the company and union are far apart on a number of issues, including shift pattern changes, the size of a one-off bonus, and BHP’s wish to give new workers lower benefits.

Escondida is majority-controlled by BHP with minority interests held by Rio Tinto and Japanese companies including Mitsubishi Corp. The mine produced about 5 percent of the world’s copper in 2016.

Reporting by Fabian Cambero; Writing by Gram Slattery; Editing by Sandra Maler

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