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Chilean copper mines negotiate to avert strike, threats loom

  • Author
  • Tom Azzopardi
  • Editor
  • Aastha Agnihotri
  • Commodity
  • Metals
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  • copper

Unions and management at three of Chile's biggest copper mines are heading into mediated talks in the week ending Aug. 7 to prevent a strike, which could halt up to a quarter of production from the world's largest producer of the metal.

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Workers at BHP's Escondida mine, Codelco's Andina division and the Japanese-owed Caserones operation all voted over the weekend to strike, after rejecting the latest offers from management.

However, under Chilean labor law, either side may request five days of mandatory government-mediation before any strike can begin, a period which may be extended by another five days.

"The company's interest is always in reaching agreement with its workers so we will remain open to dialog and use all available opportunities for it," said BHP in a statement.

Members of the 2,300 strong No. 1 Worker union at Escondida, the world's largest copper mine, voted overwhelmingly to reject a Chilean Peso 18 million ($23,500) offer from management.

The union said that the offer which included a 1% pay rise, fell short of its demand, including a 5% hike in salaries.

Last year, Escondida produced 1.187 million mt of copper in cathode and concentrate. BHP owns 57.5% of the mine with Rio Tinto and Japanese consortia owning the balance.

One of the largest and most militant unions in Chile's mining industry, the Escondida union last went on strike in early 2017, halting production for over a month.

Meanwhile, two unions at the Andina mine in central Chile rejected a final offer from state copper giant Codelco, triggering mediation talks.

Andina produced 184,500 mt of copper in concentrates last year.

Finally, the union at the Caserones copper mine, owned by Japan's JX Nippon Mining & Metals, voted to strike late last week.

Last year, the mine produced 104,917 mt of copper in concentrates, 22,05 mt of cathode and 2,453 of molybdenum in concentrates.

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