UPDATE 1-Chile Collahuasi mine workers favor strike – union

* Union has urged workers to vote for strike

* Leader says voters favor strike over company offer

* Strike not immediate, extension of talks likely

* Stoppage at world No. 3 mine seen lifting copper prices
(Recasts, adds union stance and workers comment)

By Fabian Cambero

IQUIQUE, Chile, Oct 27 (BestGrowthStock) – Workers at Chile’s giant
Collahuasi mine look set on Wednesday to vote for a strike in a
wage-offer ballot, union leaders said, in a move that could
lead to output stoppage at the world’s No. 3 copper deposit.

The 1,551-member union said mine owners Xstrata (XTA.L: ) and
Anglo American (AAL.L: ) should pay a bigger slice of record
profits to workers, but the deposit operator says its latest
collective contract offer is fair to both sides.

A stoppage at a mine that extracts 3.3 percent of the
world’s mined copper is likely to lift the price of the red
metal (CMCU3: ), which has surged to 27-month highs on
expectations of a tight market next year.

Although no stoppage is imminent as talks are likely to
continue under government mediation, the risk of labor action
is seen high amid the backdrop of a four-day strike during
Collahuasi’s last wage negotiation in 2007 and union-backed
protests that hit operations in May.

“The mood here is definitely strike,” union leader Lincon
Espinoza told Reuters in the northern city of Iquique. “We hear
the same thing across all other polling stations.”

Collahuasi mine spokeswoman Bernardita Fernandez said that
if workers voted to strike, the company had legal options to
continue talks and seek “agreements between the parties,
between workers’ aspirations and the company’s reality”.

<^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^ For FACTBOX on contract expiry see [ID:nN27202609] For TIMELINE on key Chile mine strikes see [ID:Nn26202566] Graphic on world top copper mines: http://r.reuters.com/deh22q Graphic on top Chile mines: http://link.reuters.com/xyt38p ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^>

If workers vote to strike, any side can call for government
mediation that extends talks for five days in a last-ditch
effort to reach agreement and avert industrial action.

The union has called the company’s offer to raise bonuses
to around $19,000 “insufficient” and aims for benefits closer
to the $25,000 that union workers received from BHP Billiton’s
(BHP.AX: )(BLT.L: ) Escondida mine in wage negotiations last year.

“I think the strike is imminent,” said a union employee who
has worked at the mine’s cathodes operation for 13 years, after
casting his vote in Iquique.

“The company was betting on divisions inside the unions …
the company made the same mistake in the last (wage)
negotiation.”

Dozens of workers lined up to vote in Iquique, a booming
mining city located 185 km (115 miles) southeast of the mine
perched 4,400 metres (2.7 miles) high in the Andes mountains.

The negotiations could set the bar for wage talks at
Codelco’s 300,000 tonnes-per-year Radomiro Tomic mine.
Executives at the state giant have said a quick deal is likely
after workers rejected an initial offer by a small margin in
September. [ID:nN16222389]

Labor action could also influence premium talks between
Codelco and Asian clients set for November amid expectations of
scarce copper supply in 2011, some experts say.

MEGA MINE

Collahuasi, which produced 535,000 tonnes of copper in
2009, is working on expansion plans to boost output to more
than a million tonnes and challenge Escondida as the world’s
biggest copper mine.

Union negotiators could see the expansion as an opportunity
to pressure the company by urging subcontractors or temporary
workers — many in new construction — to join a possible
strike, union sources and a subcontract leader told Reuters.

In May, a protest by subcontractors backed by union leaders
hit operations and forced the mine briefly to call force
majeure. The overall impact was marginal and did not change the
company’s output targets.

The company called the protest illegal because it was not
part of a ruled wage negotiation. Subcontractors, many of them
cooks and bus drivers, blocked roads and kept other workers
inside the mine for days to demand better wages before police
special forces broke off the protest.

“The collective negotiation is between the company and the
legal representatives of the workers; the Collahuasi union,”
Collahuasi’s Fernandez said when asked about the possibility of
a renewed subcontractor strike.
(Additional reporting by Alonso Soto in Santiago; Writing by
Alonso Soto; Editing by Simon Gardner)

UPDATE 1-Chile Collahuasi mine workers favor strike – union