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BHP Spence Copper Workers End Chile Wage Negotiations

By Matt Craze and Nathan Gill
Oct. 26 (Bloomberg) -- BHP Billiton Ltd. workers at the company’s Spence copper mine in Chile broke off wage talks with management, according to a union official.

Workers at the mine, who began the 14th day of a strike today, will stage protests after government-mediated talks failed, union President Andres Ramirez said, without revealing the location of the event.

The wage offer from BHP, the world’s largest mining company, made in an Oct. 23 meeting was insufficient, Ramirez said in a telephone interview. Talks broke down over the weekend, he said, without providing further information.

Workers are demanding a 5 percent pay increase and benefits similar to those offered to workers at BHP’s Escondida, the world’s largest copper mine, said Pedro Marin, president of Chile’s Mining Federation. Strikers may disrupt Spence mine operations by blocking roads to halt copper shipments if the company doesn’t listen to workers’ demands, he said.

“This week is crucial,” said Marin, who represents about 8,500 unionized miners in Chile, in a telephone interview. “We hope that negotiations advance.”

BHP spokesman Peter Ogden declined to comment on the talks when contacted today in Melbourne.

Stockpiled Materials

BHP prepared by stockpiling raw materials before the strike, Marin said. The company has about 10 days left before that material runs out and machinery at the 200,000- ton-a-year mine suffers damage, he said.

“The cost of repairing the machinery would be much higher than what the workers are asking for,” Marin said.

Santiago-based newspaper La Tercera reported Oct. 11 that Escondida workers were offered a one-time bonus of 14 million pesos ($25,234), without saying where it got the information.

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