LIMA, March 23 (Reuters) - Freeport-McMoRan Inc said Thursday that a nearly two-week strike has not materially impacted production levels at its Cerro Verde copper mine in Peru, the country's biggest, though the union said output has been cut in half.
The union is preparing to skirt an order by the labor ministry to return to work by formally declaring an end to its current strike on Friday and immediately starting a new one, said Cesar Fernandez, the union's deputy secretary general.
"Tomorrow the strike ends at 7:30 am and the new strike starts at 7:30 am," Fernadez said.
The move should allow the union to extend the strike for up to another month as workers demand better health care for family members and a bigger share of profits, Fernandez said.
The strike's continuation comes as Freeport's Grasberg mine in Indonesia resumed copper production this week following a more than monthlong stoppage over export rights.
Another strike that halted output at BHP Billiton's Escondida mine in Chile is ending.
Freeport declined to say how it has avoided material impacts on production from the strike.
Fernandez said some 1,300 workers out of 1,650 are taking part in the strike, but that hundreds of contract workers were hired to fill in for them.
Cerro Verde became Peru's biggest copper mine following an expansion in 2015, allowing it to churn out nearly 500,000 tonnes of copper last year.
But as copper prices and production levels have risen, workers say they have not seen any improvement in benefits.
Talks this week between union leaders and management and mediated by the labor ministry did not produce any agreement, but another meeting will be held on Friday, said Fernandez.
Freeport said it continues to engage in "constructive discussions" with the union under the current labor agreement, and has asked all workers to return to work.
Freeport owns a 53.56 percent stake in Cerro Verde. Sumitomo Metal Mining Company Ltd has a 21 percent stake in the mine, and Buenaventura 19.58 percent.
Reporting By Mitra Taj and Teresa Cespedes; Editing by Dan Grebler