Workers at Chilean mine Escondida accept early contract talks

File Photo: A view of a workers camp at 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) - The union representing workers at Chilean copper mine Escondida have accepted an invitation from management to “explore” early talks aimed at clinching a collective bargaining agreement, the union’s President Patricio Tapia said on Saturday.

Escondida, controlled by BHP, is the world’s biggest copper mine.

Failure to reach a labor deal caused a 44-day strike at the mine last year, which jolted the global copper market and cost BHP an estimated $1 billion. The work stoppage ended when the union agreed to extend the previous contract for 18 months.

The possible early talks were confirmed by Tapia in a telephone interview with Reuters. The union has “been given the mandate to explore an anticipated negotiation,” he said.

In the middle of the month, Escondida invited the union to begin early negotiations. Labor leaders held an assembly of workers which resulted in the decision to accept the offer.

The current labor deal expires on July 31.

Reporting by Antonio De la Jara; Writing by Hugh Bronstein; Editing by Bill Trott