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Chile port, copper workers join protest against pensions move

Highlights

Planned port protest could last week

Copper prices near 10-year high

COVID-19 seen impacting S. American mines

Santiago — Workers at major ports and copper mines in Chile are joining a nationwide protest over pensions policy this week that is set to end with a day-long stoppage on April 30.

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Around 8,000 workers at 25 port terminals, including San Antonio, Valparaiso, and Antofagasta, are expected to join a weeklong protest, according to the Chilean Portworkers Union.

Union leaders are demanding that President Sebastian Pinera sign into legislation a policy approved by lawmakers last week allowing employees to withdraw up to 10% of their pensions savings to help compensate for the impact of the year-long COVID-19 pandemic.

Chileans have withdrawn more than $36 billion from their privately-run pensions funds since last August, leaving millions with no savings for their retirement.

Organizations representing mineworkers both at private mines and state-owned copper giant Codelco have said that they will consider joining the stoppages.

The world's largest producer of copper, Chile produced 5.8 million mt of the metal last year.

So far only workers at Codelco's flagship Chuquicamata division have confirmed that they will adhere to the stoppage.

Last year the mining complex produced 400,720 mt of copper.

Last week, President Pinera filed an injunction before the country's Constitutional Court to block the bill, sparking the wave of protests.

On April 25, the president backtracked by announcing that the government would send its own legislation to Congress allowing the withdrawal but with a mechanism to replenish savings over the coming decade.

LME cash copper prices stood at $9,876/mt April, up 1.03% on day and near a 10-year high, amid concerns of supply-side tightness. Prices have been buoyed by growing demand from electrification projects, production curbs caused by the impact of COVID-19 at Latin American mine sites and the possibility of industrial action in Chile.