Chile Miners Accept Escondida Offer, End Strike

Workers at the world's largest copper mine voted Friday to end their two-week strike, accepting much less money than they had bargained for but setting a precedent that could pose problems down the road for Chile's mining industry.

The strike reduced already tight copper supplies around the world and cost the Escondida mine's English-Australian owners, BHP Billiton, about $400 million in lost production. Escondida normally produces about 7 percent of the world's copper supply. Production dropped by about 40,000 tons during the strike.

As the strike dragged on, BHP Billiton lowered its offer of production bonuses from $6,000 to about $5,640 a year, about half of what workers demanded.

Union spokesman Marcelo Tapia said work would resume quickly if the agreement is signed as expected Friday.

Escondida workers have seen their monthly production bonuses decline from $650 to $195 despite record global copper prices. BHP Billiton said the walkout by 2,350 workers was illegal since it came outside the normal period for negotiating new deals.

Analysts had projected that the world's mines would produce about 20 million tons of copper this year, but slowdowns due to strikes and other factors such as lower-quality ore reduced production by 500,000 tons even before the Escondida walkout began, said Katherine Virga, a copper analyst at CPM Group. In all of 2010, global copper production fell 300,000 tons short of initial estimates.