UPDATE 1-BHP says Chile's copper operations 'normal' despite strike

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SANTIAGO, June 1 (Reuters) - BHP said operations at the world’s largest copper mine Escondida and at the smaller Spence mine in Chile were normal on Tuesday despite a strike by a union representing remote workers.

The 200-member union, which runs BHP’s Integrated Operations Center in Santiago, walked off the job on Thursday after failing to reach agreement with management on a labor contract following weeks of negotiations.

Global miner BHP subsequently called in substitute workers to keep the mine running, a move the union has contested with Chilean labor authorities.

“Spence and Escondida mines have informed that their operations are continuing normally,” the company said in a brief statement.

The strike coincides with a spike in copper prices fueled by soaring demand globally following more than a year of coronavirus pandemic-induced stagnation. The rising prices have given additional leverage to organized labor at Chile’s sprawling copper mines.

A separate union of workers at the Spence mine entered a final round of government-mediated talks this week in a bid to stave off its own strike after rejecting the company’s contract offer.

The much larger union of on-site workers at Escondida is also set to begin collective bargaining for a new contract in the coming weeks, and have said they were bracing for a prolonged strike. (Reporting by Fabian Cambero; writing by Dave Sherwood; editing by Jonathan Oatis and Grant McCool)