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Chile copper workers strike, threaten another stoppage

Keywords: Tags  Chile copper, Codelco, strike, Juan Olguín, Mining Federation of Chile, Antofagasta, Los Pelambres, BHP Billiton Escondida

SANTIAGO, Chile — Unions representing about 25,000 workers in Chile’s major copper mines called a 24-hour strike April 9, and threatened a further stoppage depending on the government’s response.

"It is 100-percent confirmed. Workers from state and private mining companies will take part. We’ll see the response (of the government and private sector). If nothing changes, we may set another stoppage," Juan Olguín, mediation and organization secretary of the Chilean Copper Workers’ Federation, said.

The widely anticipated strike, called by the federation and the Mining Federation of Chile (FMC), was aimed at mines run by state-owned Corporación Nacional del Cobre de Chile (Codelco) as well as Antofagasta Plc’s Los Pelambres Mine, BHP Billiton Plc’s Escondida Mine, Xstrata Copper’s Collahuasi and Anglo American Sur, among others.

Workers are protesting the hiring of subcontracted workers and want better working conditions, with improved safety and increased pensions.

"This united mobilization has a great historical importance as, for the first time, both organizations, representing workers from state and private mining (entities), are putting the union of the syndicate in action, coordinating a mobilization plan (and) aiming to fulfill demands of all miners and Chilean workers," the federation said.

Workers at private companies, however, were expected to delay the start of their first shifts instead of stopping for the whole day, according to Chilean newspaper La Tercera.

"It seems workers from many private companies will not join this illegal strike. It will affect production, bonus(es) ... days not worked are not paid," a Chilean mining company official said. "It is an ongoing issue and under evaluation."

"We don’t know whether the unions will participate 100 percent or whether it is just union rhetoric," an executive from another mining company said.

Workers at Codelco’s Radomiro Tomic open-pit mine held a four-day strike in late March following the death of a worker in a landslide.

Carolina Guerra, São Paulo, contributed to this article, a version of which was first published by AMM sister publication Metal Bulletin.

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