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Collahuasi Copper Miners Accept Offer to End Strike

Unionized workers at Anglo American Plc and Xstrata Plc’s Collahuasi venture in Chile are set to return to work after voting to end a month-long strike at the world’s third-largest copper mine.

Miners packed up tents and television sets last night at the abandoned school in the city of Iquique that served as the union’s de facto headquarters during the 32-day stoppage. They voted 521 in favor of the proposal and 398 against, the union said on its website.

“It was a win for the union movement in Chile,” union President Manuel Munoz told reporters after the vote.

The strike started Nov. 5 and became the longest recorded at a major privately owned Chilean copper mine when it surpassed a 26-day stoppage at BHP Billiton Ltd.’s Escondida in 2006. While the company used non-union workers and contractors to help run the mine, prospects of an output cut helped drive copper to a record on the London Metal Exchange last month.

Company and union representatives signed a 42-month contract in Iquique today, which includes a 3.25 percent pay rise and 14 million pesos ($29,000) in bonuses and low-interest loans, Collahuasi said in an e-mailed statement.

Union members will start returning to work from 6 p.m. New York time today, union President Manuel Munoz said in an interview from Iquique.

‘Negotiating Table’

The company and union returned to the negotiating table Nov. 29 after individual talks with workers didn’t garner enough acceptances under Chilean law to end the strike. Chile’s Work Inspectorate issued a resolution last month for talks to resume.

Cia. Minera Dona Ines de Collahuasi SCM, the mine’s operating company, is “satisfied” with the result, Fernandez said.

Collahuasi produced 535,000 metric tons last year, or 3.5 percent of global output, according to Standard Bank Plc. Its production is only surpassed by Escondida and Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold Inc.’s Grasberg mine in Indonesia.

Anglo American and Xstrata each own 44 percent of Collahuasi. A group led by Mitsui & Co. holds the remainder.

While the strike supported copper prices, a return to work probably won’t cause prices to plunge, said Jonathan Barratt, managing director of Commodity Broking Services Pty.

“We have very tight supply of the metal,” he said in a telephone interview from Sydney. “If anything people will see any negative reaction in the price as an opportunity to buy.”

Copper rose to a 31-month high in New York and reached a record in London as an extension of U.S. tax cuts reduced concern Europe’s debt crisis may spread.

Copper for March delivery added 7.95 cents, or 2 percent, to $4.0875 a pound at 10:43 a.m. on the Comex in New York. Prices reached $4.1315, the highest level since May 5, 2008, when they touched a record $4.2605.

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