Chile crosses fingers after labor unrest; agreement between BHP, Escondida

Feb 01, 2010 | 05:11 AM | Juan Weik

SAO PAULO, Brazil: Last year was definitely the Chilean copper industry would just as soon forget

In the first half of 2009, local producers struggled to deal with prices that had plunged on the back of the worldwide economic crisis. Fortunately, they managed to cut costs and increase production during those first few months.

But just when everything seemed to be heading in a more positive direction, workers balked in several contract negotiations, resulting in strikes and a surplus of tension in both Chile and the international copper market.

The year ended in a dramatic and emblematic way when workers at Chuquicamata—the largest mine operated by the world's largest producer, state-owned Corporación Nacional del Cobre de Chile (Codelco)—decided to lay down their tools in support of demands for higher wages.

Earlier, workers at BHP Billiton's Spence copper mine and Xstrata Copper's Altonorte copper and molybdenum smelter also went on strike for better wages and benefits. The worst situation was at Spence, where workers downed tools Oct. 13 and didn't resume activities until the end of November, after weeks of mounting tension, protests and blockades of access roads to the mine.....

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