BHP Billiton Faces Second Strike Threat In Chile

Anglo-Australian mining group BHP Billiton said Sept. 8 it had made an offer to workers at its Spence copper mine in Chile in a bid to avoid another damaging strike. Last month, protesting workers at its Escondida copper mine in Chile crippled production during a 25-day strike over pay.

BHP Billiton has invested about $990 million in the Spence mine in northern Chile, which was due to start production next month at the earliest with a capacity of 200,000 tons of copper cathode per year. The company faces wage demands from its highly unionized work force, which is seeking a 7% pay increase, according to Chilean news reports.

BHP, which bought 100% of the mine in 2000, has yet to receive the union's response to the offer, the spokesman said.

The strike at Escondida, the world's largest copper mine, ended last week after BHP and the union agreed to a 40-month contract, which included a 5% wage rise and one-time bonus of about $16,000 for each worker. The Escondida strike was an effort by the workers to secure a greater share of the mine's profits, which have surged in line with a near tripling of copper prices in the last three years.

BHP Billiton, the world's largest miner, posted a record annual net profit of $10.45 billion in August and said prospects were good for the sector amid unprecedented global demand for commodities.

The international credit ratings agency Fitch Ratings had warned in a report published on August 24 that the Escondida strike could spark copycat action across the globe as miners seek a bigger share of their employers' record earnings.

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2006

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