TORONTO, Mar. 3 -- Talks to end the strike at Vale's (VALE5.SA: Quote) Sudbury nickel operations in northern Ontario will continue this week, a union official said on Tuesday, a development that suggests progress has been made in ending the seven-month stalemate.
The Brazilian miner, which picked up the Sudbury operation when it bought Canada's Inco in 2006, began what the union called "exploratory" talks with union leaders and a provincial mediator on the weekend, the first talks between the two sides since the strike began last July.
"We'll be back Wednesday and Thursday," said Wayne Fraser, regional director at the Canadian arm of the United Steelworkers union, which represents the more than 3,000 workers striking at Sudbury and at smaller operations in Port Colborne, Ontario.
Talks adjourned on Sunday because the mediator had other obligations, Fraser said.
He wouldn't comment on the proceedings themselves, citing a media blackout agreed to by the company and union.
A separate strike at Vale's Voisey's Bay mine in the eastern province of Newfoundland and Labrador has been going on since last August.
In Sudbury, the company and union have been at odds over pension issues and proposed changes to a worker bonus tied to the price of nickel.
The union has accused Vale of having little regard for the community and says the company is reaping huge profits in Sudbury. Vale says it needs to lower costs to make the operation viable over the long term.
The strike comes as nickel prices only slowly recover from a steep drop in 2007-08, which analysts say gives Vale little incentive to come to a quick resolution.
Tensions increased last fall when Vale began a partial restart of the operation using contract workers and employees from outside the union bargaining unit.
Vale is now suing the union for C$1 million ($970,000), accusing striking workers of engaging in "unlawful thuggery" during the stoppage.
Vale's Sudbury operations -- which include several mines, a mill, smelter and a refinery -- produced 85,300 tonnes of nickel in 2008, while Voisey's Bay produced 77,500 tonnes.