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Brazil's BRF faces tough salary talks in pandemic-stricken site -union

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By Ana Mano

SAO PAULO, Oct 7 (Reuters) - A BRF SA meat plant workers' union in southern Brazil hopes to reach a deal over pay with management after fruitless talks that culminated in the partial halting of production last Friday, a union representative told Reuters on Wednesday.

Jenir de Paula, president of the Sitracarnes union, said BRF proposed a 1% pay raise that was unacceptable for the roughly 5,700 workers at the plant in Chapecó, where BRF processes turkey and chicken. They are seeking a 10% annual salary rise.

A new round of talks will take place on Thursday and if no agreement is reached, workers could opt for a strike when they vote on BRF's new proposal on Friday, he said.

BRF said the temporary interruption of part of the turkey production was done by a small group of workers and lacked "legal basis."

The salary talks are the latest headache for the world's largest chicken exporter, which had a challenging second quarter amid the COVID 19 pandemic that disrupted production, sparked export bans and raised costs.

Annual salary talks had been slated for June, but the COVID-19 pandemic delayed them, De Paula said. BRF has been testing employees for coronavirus routinely and some 1,500 were known to have caught it at Chapecó, he added.

Last Friday, workers halted certain turkey lines in protest over the protracted salary talks, De Paula and a source close to the workers said. Following the action, they said some 60 employees were suspended on Monday, a day when BRF requested the presence of police inside the plant at the start of the morning shift.

"There's accumulated tension," the source said on condition of anonymity.

BRF said production was quickly restored, denying that the Friday action was related to the pay talks.

De Paula said workers would be disgruntled if BRF decided to fire the suspended colleagues, as some suspect it will, adding the union would try to persuade the firm to do otherwise as it presses on for better wages. (Reporting by Ana Mano; editing by Grant McCool)