BHP Spence mine workers vote to strike in Chile

Reuters reported that Union workers at Chile’s mid tier Spence copper mine voted to strike on September 30th 2009 rejecting BHP Billiton’s collective contract offer and setting a worrying precedent for key labor negotiations in the world’s top producer. Mr Daniel Ibacache union leader said that Spence workers will down tools probably on October 8th 2009. He said that 522 out of the 523 union members who cast ballots voted to stop. Spence’s union has 560 members.

Mr Ibacache said that “The strike was approved and now it is just a matter of putting it into effect.”

Contract talks at Spence were seen as an indicator for other collective negotiations at Chile’s key private mines due in the coming months, including BHP Billiton’s Escondida the world’s largest producing more than 5% of global copper supply.

Spence which only accounts for about 3% of Chile’s estimated 5.4 million tonnes output for 2009 produced 164,761 tonnes of copper cathodes in 2008 but is forecast to produce nearer 200,000 tonnes in 2010.

BHP Billiton said that it had offered workers a wage increase similar to the existing contract plus an adjustment for inflation. The company then said that talks would continue to seek an accord that is compatible with workers’ expectations, the labor market and the sustainability of our operation.

Under Chile’s labor laws, BHP Billiton can still ask for an additional 5 days of government mediation to try to reach an agreement with workers, even if these voted for a stoppage. Workers are demanding a 5.5% wage hike for the duration of the 2 year collective contract along with annual bonuses tied to copper prices.


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