BHP Chile Control Staff to Strike in Threat to Copper Supply

Workers at BHP Group’s operations center in top copper producer Chile rejected the company’s latest wage offer, paving the way for a strike to begin on Thursday.

BHP may be able to continue mining and processing during a stoppage at the center, although not at full capacity, Union President Jessica Orellana said in text messages. BHP didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. Copper futures were up 0.4% at 2:10 p.m. in London.

The more than 200 union members provide control services to the giant Escondida and Spence copper mines from a center set up two years ago in Santiago, several hundred miles away. A sticking point in the talks is the workers’ demand to be considered part of the productive chain and therefore eligible for output bonuses.

When the center was set up, staff became BHP Chile employees rather than part of the workforce of the mining units. Unions at Escondida have expressed support for the operations center staff, saying they will resist any efforts to replace them during a strike.

Members voted against the proposal after a five-day government mediation period ended Tuesday. The impasse offers an indication of how talks may evolve with the main unions at the two mines. Workers at Spence will vote on a offer this week, while Escondida employees are due to begin negotiations in June.

A slew of contract negotiations at Chilean mines is part of the supply risks that have helped push up copper to a record as recovering economies spur demand. Surging prices and a sharp turn away from the political establishment may further embolden unions in a country that accounts for more than a quarter of mined copper.

Still, BHP reached a wage deal this week with supervisors at Cerro Colorado, the smallest of its three Chilean copper mines.

BHP Chile Control Staff to Strike in Threat to Copper Supply

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