(Recasts first paragraph; adds comments from Codelco, union leader)
SANTIAGO, Dec 16 (Reuters) - Workers at Chilean state-owned Codelco’s massive Chuquicamata copper mine accepted on Friday an early wage deal, putting to rest what some industry insiders had feared could be prolonged, tense talks and even the threat of a strike.
The wage talks at Chuquicamata, one of Codelco’s largest operations, are seen as a bellwether for the industry and a precursor of contract discussions due at Chile’s other copper mines in coming months, including at BHP Billiton’s Escondida, the world’s largest.
Union leaders and Codelco confirmed that the six unions at century-old Chuquicamata had accepted the offer, which will be good for 27 months and offers no salary increase but includes per-worker bonuses of some 4.3 million Chilean pesos ($6,390).
“This is super encouraging for the future of Codelco, it is a very good precedent,” a Codelco spokesman said.
The per-worker bonus was less than half what workers received when the last talks took place in 2012, when copper prices on average were 40 percent higher.
Codelco, which is already cutting costs to put its finances in order, had indicated it would maintain its recent policy of zero raises and tighter bonuses.
Chuquicamata’s collective contracts are due to expire in February, but the company and workers kicked off the talks several weeks ahead of schedule to allow time to try to reach an agreement.
Though workers did not get a salary increase with the new contract, they negotiated to keep all the benefits they had obtained in prior talks.
“Without a doubt the conditions we negotiated are very favorable for us,” said union leader Jaime Graz. ($1 = 673.3000 Chilean pesos) (Reporting by Fabian Cambero and Anthony Esposito; Editing by Meredith Mazzilli)