January 24, 2017 / 4:58 PM / a year ago

Workers at Chile's Escondida call wage offer 'absurd,' strike looms

SANTIAGO, Jan 24 (Reuters) - Unionized workers at BHP Billiton-owned Escondida, the world’s biggest copper mine, said on Tuesday that they considered the company’s latest wage “absurd,” heightening the possibility of a labor conflict.

Escondida’s Union No.1, which represents about 2,500 workers, has warned that if collective contract talks with the company are unsuccessful they could go on strike.

“The offer is absurd,” union President Patricio Tapia told Reuters.

BHP Billiton said it would not comment on the matter.

Workers will have between Jan. 27 and Jan. 31 to vote on the company’s wage and benefits proposal.

According to Chilean labor law, if the direct talks between the company and workers fail, both sides can then request government mediation.

Labor talks at Escondida are seen as a benchmark for the copper industry at large. The last wage talks four years ago, when copper prices were considerably higher, ended with Escondida offering each worker a bonus worth some $49,000, the highest ever offered in Chile’s mining industry.

Escondida is controlled by BHP Billiton with a 57.5 percent stake, while Rio Tinto owns 30 percent. (Reporting by Fabian Cambero; Writing by Anthony Esposito)

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