SANTIAGO, Aug 8 (Reuters) - Codelco, the world's biggest copper producer, complained on Saturday of damage to its Salvador mine by striking workers, as talks to end a nearly three-week protest in Chile sputtered to a halt.
Contract workers affiliated with the Confederation of Copper Workers, or CTC, have been protesting across Codelco's operations since July 21, leading to the shutdown of the 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.
Salvador in northern Chile has been in the hands of the protesters for 18 days and its access road blocked. The mine is Codelco's smallest operation, producing 54,000 tonnes of copper in 2014.
Equipment had been destroyed at the Salvador control room, Codelco said in a statement on Saturday, and workers who were attempting to protect equipment before the arrival of forecasted heavy rains were pelted with stones.
The news indicates that relations between the company and the CTC have taken a step back since Friday, when the union said it was hopeful of a quick resolution to the dispute as it held talks with third-party companies, at which Codelco was a mediator.
Those talks had ended without a result, Codelco said on Saturday, adding that the seizure of mines would need to end before it would consider further discussions.
The CTC said in a statement late Friday that to continue dialogue it wanted minimum guarantees of an end to "all repression, bullying and pressure against workers, which includes retracting all the letters of reprimand, sanction or firing that have been received."
State-run Codelco said last week that the protests had cost it some $15 million in damaged equipment and lost production. Sources told Reuters that Codelco is not at the moment offering copper to China on the spot market.
Reporting by Rosalba O'Brien; Editing by Matthew Lewis