January 30, 2017 / 9:02 PM / a year ago

Strike seen probable at Escondida copper mine as vote wraps up

SANTIAGO, Jan 30 (Reuters) - Workers at the Escondida copper mine in Chile, the world’s largest, entered the final stretch of voting on Monday on the company’s wage offer, with the union saying it was confident a strike would be approved.

Talks between mine owner BHP Billiton and the union ended in failure last week, triggering a rise in the global price of copper as a potential stoppage looms at the mine.

Escondida produced 1.15 million tonnes of the metal in 2015, about 6 percent of the world’s total.

The Escondida workers’ union, which represents about 2,500 laborers, has been voting on the company’s latest offer in recent days, with the vote scheduled to wrap up on Tuesday evening.

“For what we have won and what they want to take away from us, for our children and families, vote strike!” the union said to its members on its website.

Union spokesman Carlos Allendes said he was confident that workers would vote to strike.

If a strike is approved, the company has 48 hours to request government mediation. That process takes five days, with a possible five-day extension, meaning a strike is likely to begin around mid-February if no deal is reached.

In 2011, workers at Escondida went on strike for two weeks, stunning the copper market and sending the mine’s output tumbling.

Escondida is controlled by BHP Billiton with a 57.5 percent stake, while Rio Tinto owns 30 percent. The rest is owned by Japan’s JECO.

Reporting by Fabian Cambero, Writing by Rosalba O'Brien; Editing by Peter Cooney

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