IQUIQUE, Chile (Reuters) - Chile’s Collahuasi, the world’s No. 3 copper mine, said on Monday it resumed wage talks with union leaders as the two sides sought an end to a 25-day strike following workers’ rejection of an earlier bonus offer.
Collahuasi over the weekend offered to restart contract talks after workers ignored the hefty bonus offer, easing its stance in a walkout that is set to become the longest ever at a major Chilean private copper mine.
The talks resumed following a preliminary meeting — the first in weeks — between the two sides that was coordinated by a local Roman Catholic bishop.
“Today, following an initial encounter ... talks were resumed between Collahuasi and its union,” the company said in an emailed statement, noting discussions would continue on Tuesday.
Both workers and management seem keen for a deal as fatigue sets in. The walkout by Tuesday will rival the 2006 stoppage for 26 days at the world’s No. 1 copper mine Escondida.
The strike’s limited impact on output meant copper prices held steady at about $8,220 per metric ton amid the news of a first meeting between the two sides. Copper’s rally to a record high near $9,000 a metric ton this month was driven primarily by macroeconomic data including the dollar and demand from the world’s top consumer China.
Though the union’s hand may have been strengthened by workers’ snubbing of a $29,000 bonus offer that expired on Friday, union leaders are aiming for a quick deal to appease restless strikers who are not getting paid during the walkout.
Collahuasi, which by Thursday had convinced less than 15 percent of the 1,551 unionized workers to sign the agreement, needs more than 50 percent acceptance to legally end the strike through direct negotiations with the workers.
Union leaders have consistently pressed the company to renew contract talks to end the strike.
Collahuasi, which extracts 3.3 percent of the world’s mined copper or 535,000 metric tons a year, on Monday said it loaded a new shipment of 44,000 dry metric tons of copper concentrate bound to Asia.
Normal deliveries highlights how well Collahuasi prepared for the strike with replacement workers and copper stocks, keeping the walkout influence over markets limited even as prices approach record highs.
“If it went on for another two weeks, I think it would become much more important,” said Max Layton, an analyst with Macquarie Securities in London. “I’d say up to this point the bullish impact has been priced in.”
Traders believe Collahuasi has lost only 1 percent of annual output due to the strike — which experts say the mine can recover easily after the strike ends.
Collahuasi will maintain the direct talks with workers even while negotiating with the union, but the bonus offer now drops to $25,000 for those who did not accept by the Friday deadline.
Workers at Codelco’s Radomiro Tomic last week agreed to nearly $31,000 in bonuses and benefits, which could set the upper limit for Collahuasi workers if negotiations resume. Miners at Antofagasta Plc’s Los Pelambres mine this month settled for $28,000.
The next major collective bargaining talks are not scheduled until June when Chilean state-run copper producer Codelco negotiates a new contract with workers at the 400,000 tonne-per-year El Teniente mine.
Writing by Alonso Soto and Brian Ellsworth; Editing by Lisa Shumaker and David Gregorio