Escondida workers to end strike as they opt for old contract – by Felipe Iturrieta (Reuters U.S. – March 23, 2017)

ANTOFAGASTA, CHILE – The strike at Chile’s Escondida, the world’s largest copper mine, is ending after workers decided to invoke a rarely used legal provision that allows them to extend their old contract, the union said on Thursday.

Hours earlier, talks between the two sides failed, and Escondida, which is operated by BHP Billiton, said it would attempt to restart production. The workers said they would present their decision to the government on Friday and return to work on Saturday.

A swift restart of Escondida, which produced about 5 percent of the world’s copper last year, may bring some relief to the Chilean economy after a strike that has lasted 43 days. But there was little immediate effect on copper prices, with industry experts saying the two sides will still have to tackle major issues in 18 months, when talks must resume.

The stoppage by the union’s 2,500 workers began on Feb. 9 after initial talks with the company to set new wage and benefit contracts failed. Negotiations take place when the former contract expires, typically every three to four years.

The legal provision, Article 369, allows workers to revert to their previous contract for 18 months, after which both sides must try to reach a new agreement. The company is legally obligated to comply.

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