BHP Remote Copper Operators Move Closer to Strike in Chile

Workers at BHP Group’s remote operations center in Santiago rejected the company’s final wage offer, with the two sides now set to begin a mediation process in a bid to avoid a strike.

Almost 97% of the union’s 203 members opted to strike in voting that concluded Friday, according to a union statement. Under Chilean labor rules, BHP now has the right to call for five days of government mediation that could be extended another five days if both parties agree.

The workers provide control services to the Escondida and Spence copper mines from a center set up in mid-2019 in the Chilean capital several hundred miles away. While a strike may disrupt operations and stoke concerns over tight global supplies of the metal, BHP may opt to bring in replacements to keep the center running.

A key sticking point in the wage talks is the workers’ demand to be considered part of the productive chain and therefore eligible for production bonuses, union President Jessica Orellana said. When the center was set up, staff members became BHP Chile employees rather than part of the workforce of the mining units.

The negotiations are part of a busy season of wage talks in the Chilean copper industry, which accounts for more than a quarter of global supply. The risk of stoppages comes at a time of strong global demand as economies recover from the pandemic. Copper futures hit a record high on Monday.

Without confirming that it planned to request mediation, BHP Chile said by email that it “trusts that a satisfactory agreement will be reached for both parties.”

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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