UPDATE 1-Union at Antofagasta mine in Chile willing to extend talks, official says

(Updates with quote from union leader, additional context)

SANTIAGO, March 16 (Reuters) - A union representing workers at Antofagasta’s Los Pelambres mine in Chile will agree to extend government-mediated talks into next week in a bid to avoid a strike at the sprawling copper deposit, a union leader said on Tuesday.

Workers at the mine rejected the company’s final contract offer last week, paving the way for a potential strike. Chilean law, however, requires the two sides to engage in government-brokered negotiations before a potential strike.

The first round of those talks have advanced slowly, according to union secretary Luis Silva, prompting a willingness by both parties to continue to negotiate.

“By mutual agreement, we should extend the mediation for five more days until next week,” Silva told Reuters.

Soaring copper prices have handed unions an additional bargaining chip in labor talks this year. Benchmark copper on the London Metal Exchange climbed in February above $9,000 a tonne for the first time since 2011.

Los Pelambres produced 372,100 tonnes of copper in 2020, equivalent to around 6% of Chile’s total output.

Chile is the world’s top copper producer. (Reporting by Fabian Cambero, writing by Dave Sherwood, Editing by Louise Heavens and Paul Simao)