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I would rather we didn’t have a strike: BHP Billiton CEO on Escondida

While BHP Billiton swung back into net profit in its latest earnings release and raised its interim dividend, the mining giant is still facing some uncertainties such as the outcome of the ongoing workers strike seen at its Escondida copper mine.

"I would rather we didn't have a strike," BHP Billiton CEO Andrew Mackenzie told CNBC Tuesday.

"We have discussions, negotiations with unions all over the world. Our next phase of productivity and safety requires a greater flexibility from the workforce, a greater sense of empowering them, and them taking control to make themselves more productive."

According to Reuters, Chile's Escondida mine produced around 5 percent of the world's copper during the course of 2016. BHP Billiton has majority control of Escondida, the world's largest copper mine.

On February 9, 2017, it was announced that production at the Chilean-based mine had been suspended due to ongoing industrial action. In the company's latest earnings report, BHP Billiton said it didn't know when production would resume and couldn't quantify what the potential financial effect would be.

"We need an agreement that delivers that at Escondida – we need that all around the world if we're going to maintain this competitiveness, extend our track record on safety and productivity, pull in new technology in order to do that and change the culture," said Mackenzie.

On Monday citing comments from a union spokesman, Reuters reported that a government-mediated meeting between the miner and strikers had failed.

The discussion, which took place in Santiago, was called by Chile's Labor Ministry with the hope that the multi-day strike would end. Both sides have yet to however reach an agreement over topics such as shift pattern changes, one-off bonus sizes and fresh wages; Reuters added.

In response to the ongoing situation, Mackenzie said he believed the sides would work through all of it, adding that he wanted the unionized workforce to be part of making the miner perform better and become more competitive.

"I believe with a culture from top to bottom that is, if you like, more about a greater sense of teamwork, collaborating across the [peace], wanting to turn up to work each day to do a better job than the day before."

"I think people on the whole will feel more fulfilled, our company will perform better, we'll employ more people and we'll attract more investment."

"I think that's good for everybody by making a company more competitive and I want the unionized workforce to be part of that as well and the way we do things is often negotiations and sometimes some work-forces prepare to negotiate when they're on strike rather than before going on strike. So we'll work our way through all of that."

In the company's latest earnings report released on Tuesday, BHP Billiton said that health and safety was core to the company's values and that the miner was "committed to providing a safe workplace."

The miner stated in the report that total copper production guidance for the financial year of 2017 was currently under review, due to the ongoing industrial action seen at Escondida. In addition, the miner stated that it was on track to deliver $1.8 billion of productivity gains within the 2017 financial year, but excluded any impact from Escondida action.

Mackenzie's comments come as the miner reported half-year earnings on Tuesday. The mining giant announced that underlying first-half net profit rose almost eight-fold to $3.24 billion from $412 million a year earlier, just missing forecasts for $3.4 billion.

The miner is also raising its interim dividend to 40 U.S. cents per share, on the back of the uptick in earnings. While the stock posted strong gains at the start of the European session, the miner has since pared gains, trading mildly higher in afternoon trade.