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SANTIAGO – The union representing workers at Chile’s Escondida copper mine, the world’s largest, on Thursday instructed its members to prepare for a strike due to slow progress in contract talks being mediated by the government.

More than 2 000 union members rejected owner BHP Group’s latest contract offer at the end of last week. Local law requires five days of mediation after a contract is rejected, followed by a possible five-day extension if a deal cannot be reached.

“The proposal has not changed substantively and remains far from meeting the needed improvements,” the union said in a statement to its members.

“We call on you to maintain unity and discipline and to be prepared to face the scenario of an eventual strike,” it said.

BHP said in a statement to Reuters that it had made improvements to its offer and hoped to get closer to a deal.

“On Wednesday the company made a proposal with substantial improvements, which includes the issues raised by the union. We are awaiting a response. We trust that this offer will bring positions closer to formalizing an agreement,” it said.

The negotiations are being carried out at a time of high copper prices brought by expectations of a global economic recovery. Chile is the world’s top copper producer.