Politics, Business & Culture in the Americas

Chilean Copper Mine Strike Hits Impasse

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Union workers at Chile’s Escondida copper mine broke off labor negotiations on Tuesday over unmet contract terms, and are threatening to extend their five-day strike indefinitely. The 2,300 striking miners from the Escondida—the world’s largest copper mine—will be joined by 7,000 contractors today, according to union leader Marcelo Tapia. Workers from Chile’s state-owned Codelco mining company may join the strike on Thursday, though the intervention of President Sebastián Piñera has made it unlikely.

The strike at Escondida that began last Thursday was spurred by disagreement over monthly production bonuses. The mine is willing to pay workers a total of $6,000 in bonuses by the end of the year, but the worker’s union rejected the offer, demanding $10,800 per worker instead. Other union demands include protections for workers who contract serious illnesses on the job, punch clocks that better control their 12-hour work days, and removal of company surveillance camera which, the union claims, violates worker privacy.

Escondida has deemed the strike illegal and has refused to continue talks. Australian mining company BHP Billiton Ltd, which holds a 57 percent share of the mine, has refused the same government mediation that appears to have eased tensions at Codelco.

Union demands are buoyed by the near all-time high price of copper, currently at $4.40 per pound, that is generating record profits for shareholders like BHP, Rio Tinto PLC and Mitsubishi Corporation. The mine, located in the northern region of Antofagasta, produces about 3,000 tons of copper per day, or 7 percent of the world’s copper, worth about $30 million.

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