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Chilean police break up blockade of Chuquicamata copper mine: union

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Chilean police break up blockade of Chuquicamata copper mine: union

Santiago, Chile — Police have broken up a blockade of the state-owned Chuquicamata copper mine in northern Chile after unions protested over health benefits and the lack of union consultation, the mine's union said Thursday.

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Members of three unions, which represent around 4,500 employees at the mining and smelting complex, seized the main access roads from midday December 12, claiming that clauses in their collective wage agreement had been breached.

The No 1 Chuquicamata Union said that 15 union officials were arrested Thursday as riot police sought to end the protest.

Chile's state mining giant Codelco said that the protests did not affect operations at the division which produced 330,910 mt of copper last year.

Codelco is striving to cut the workforce at Chuquicamata through early retirement as the mine transitions from open pit to underground mining, but workers have demanded improved conditions.

The latest protest coincided with the start of a prolonged shutdown of the smelter at Chuquicamata, one of the largest in Chile, to bring it into line with tighter emissions standards.

Last month, CEO Nelson Pizarro said that Codelco had negotiated a string of labor agreements with unionized workers at its mines this year, with one strike taking place.

-- Tom Azzopardi,