SANTIAGO, Aug 7 (Reuters) - The union representing striking workers at Chilean state copper miner Codelco said it is confident a deal can soon be reached that will end protests that have paralyzed some operations and hit sales.
Contract workers affiliated with the Confederation of Copper Workers, or CTC, have been protesting across Codelco's operations since July 21, leading to the complete shutdown of the small Salvador mine and partial suspension of operations elsewhere.
The contractors - cleaners, drivers, and other workers, including some miners - have been demanding the right to negotiate a benefits package similar to the one offered to Codelco's direct employees.
Late on Thursday, Codelco said it had been the "facilitator" at a meeting held between the CTC and contract firms, emphasizing the meeting was a dialogue at which negotiations on benefits were off the table.
"We are confident that an agreement can be reached," a spokesman for the CTC told Reuters on Friday.
"Although this has been described as dialogue rather than negotiation, it is a concrete display on Codelco's part that it is willing to reach an agreement," he said.
He added that any decision about whether the strike would end would be communicated later on Friday.
Codelco, the world's top copper exporter, has said the protests have cost some $15 million in damaged equipment and lost production.
Its offer of copper to China on the spot market has dried up in the last two weeks, sources told Reuters this week. (Reporting by Fabian Cambero; Writing by Rosalba O'Brien; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)