IQUIQUE, Chile, Dec 7 (Reuters) - Workers at the world's No.3 copper mine, Chile's Collahuasi, return to work on Tuesday after accepting a wage deal to end a 32-day strike -- the longest-ever at a major private mine in the top producing country.
Miners planned to return to work during the first shift on Tuesday, a union leader told Reuters, ending a stoppage that experts say has had little impact on output or global prices . The stoppage was seen costing Collahuasi a few thousand tonnes at most -- or a tiny fraction of its annual output of 535,000 tonnes a year.
"The return to work will depress prices a little, but we knew the strike would end eventually," said one Singapore-based copper trader. "Supply deficits, dominant positions and the solid outlook for China should be more than enough to keep markets near the highs."
Collahuasi, which is owned by global miners Xstrata and Anglo American , extracts about 3.3 percent of global mined copper and aims to challenge nearby BHP Billiton's Escondida as the world's No.1 mine of the metal.
Most workers voted in favor of the management's new wage proposal, which was similar to a previous offer of around $29,000 in bonuses and benefits.
Shortly after the vote, workers hauled television sets, suitcases and mattresses out of an abandoned school hundreds occupied for weeks during the strike, which trumped the length of a 26-day stoppage at Escondida, the world's top copper mine, in 2006.
"We will get them (the company) the next time," said one worker, carrying a mattress over his shoulder.
Collahuasi's management came out ahead in the conflict after union leaders failed to wrest better terms in a strike seen driven more by union politics than justified wage demands, analysts said.
The strike is viewed as one of the toughest faced by any foreign miner in Chile, where labor action is usually short-lived. Soaring copper prices have emboldened workers to demand a bigger slice of profits.
Copper prices rose when workers started the strike a month ago, but then showed little sensitivity to the walkout, partly because the operator has kept supplies flowing and other factors such as the euro zone debt crisis have taken precedence.
Collahuasi mine spokeswoman Bernardita Fernandez said management welcomed the end of the stoppage. She declined to say how much output the mine had lost during the strike.
For weeks, Collahuasi has said operations were normal according to a contingency plan, and has delivered copper to buyers in Asia and Europe. But it did not say what 'normal' meant.
The company has previously said at least 220 full-time workers, or 14 percent of union membership, had broken the strike and returned to work. The mine also hired hundreds of temporary workers and about 100 new, permanent employees.