SANTIAGO, Nov 9 (Reuters) - Most unionized workers at Chilean state copper producer Codelco's massive Chuquicamata mine have voted to start early labor contract negotiations, a union source told Reuters on Friday.
The labor contract at world No. 1 copper producer Codelco's Chuquicamata, which produced around 443,000 tonnes in 2011, is set to expire on Feb. 28.
Rapidly dwindling ore grades at century-old, emblematic Chuquicamata have prompted Codelco to transform it into an underground operation, which will lead to job losses.
Union willingness to hold earlier talks with the company suggest a new pay deal could be brokered without incident, though Chuquicamata workers have in the past staged labor action. During the former contract negotiation in 2009-2010, the mine's union staged a two-day strike.
"We're expecting that there will be the beginning of an agreement within the first 15 days of December," Jaime Graz, the treasurer of Chuquicamata's No.1 union, told Reuters. "As long as we can successfully get the best for the workers, I don't see a big problem in reaching an agreement."
Copper output from the world's top producer Chile was hit in 2011 by a surge in labor action, bolstered by record prices for top export copper.
The three main unions involved in the negotiations have over 5,100 members, according to Graz. Three other smaller unions should also join talks.
Union leaders are fine-tuning the key issues for negotiation. They're aiming to clinch an over 40-month long contract compared with the former 38-month long deal, Graz said.
"We're open to talk and negotiate all points, except the health plan," he added.