MAC: Mines and Communities

Industrial unrest at mines in the Andes

Published by MAC on 2014-03-30
Source: Corporate Watch

The huge multinationals Glencore Xstrata and Anglo American are both encountering labour problems in their Latin American mines, Glencore at the Peruvian Tintaya mine and Anglo at their Chilean Los Bronces mine.

Anglo American Workers Strike Against Contract Labor Conditions in Chile

by Pratap Chatterjee

CorpWatch Blog

26 March 2014

Some 4,000 contract workers at Los Bronces copper mine in Chile went on strike against Anglo American, a UK-based mining multinational from South Africa. The strike is the latest in a series of protests against the Chilean copper industry, the world's largest producers of the metal.

Copper is Chile's most important product. One fifth of Chile's gross domestic product is derived from copper and the metal makes up 60 percent of exports. As much as a third of global production of copper comes from Chile with the bulk shipped to China for manufacturing. (Copper is also extremely valuable in China, so much so that it is often used as a backing for bank loans)

Over the last few decades Chile's mining industry has slowly outsourced most jobs with as many as two out of three workers now working on short term contracts at salaries as low as one third of those with full time staff jobs. Chile's contract workers are also often assigned more dangerous jobs with higher risks of injury, say researchers. "These disparities have had a great deal of impact on relations between families and children of first, second and third class workers, destroying family ties and the social fabric of mining towns and regions," write Fernando Duran-Palma and Diego Lopez in a 2008 paper.

"Workers are protesting against systematic anti-union practices at Anglo American that include threats of dismissal and workplace harassment," César Inostroza, the president of the Federación de Trabajadores Sindicalizados de Los Bronces y Otros union, told La Tercera newspaper.

Last August some 2,500 workers went on strike at the Escondida copper mine, the the world's biggest copper mine, operated by BHP Billiton from Australia, the third such major strike at the mine in the last decade. Previous stoppages occurred in 2006 and 2011, with the first one lasting a whole month.

State-owned Corporacion Nacional del Cobre (better known as Codelco) the world's largest copper producer, has also been hit by multiple strikes in the last few years. All of the companies operations were shut down by a July 2011 strike in protest against privatization plans followed by another strike last April to protest low health and pension benefits. Workers at the Salvador mine, one of the smaller Codelco operations, also downed tools last September.

The copper industry in Chile have also been affected by other labor protests. Port workers went on strike in July 2011 and again April in 2013 and January 2014, shutting down key ore export ports like Antofagasta and Iquique forcing mining companies to postpone shipments for several days.

Related mineral producers have also been affected. Earlier this month workers at the Maricunga gold mine in Chile went on strike after failing to reach a new collective agreement with Kinross, the Canadian company that operates the mine.

While unions have managed to negotiate settlements at many of the previous strikes, anger among the contract workers boiled over at the Los Bronces site high in the Andes in central Chile on Monday. "There have been fires, looting, vehicle thefts and disturbances," the company claimed in a statement.

"The violence is very concerning," Juan Carlos Guajardo, the head of mining think tank CESCO told Reuters news agency. "It's generating more and more complications in Chilean mining ... I think we could see more cases like these."

But union organizers say that the fault lies with the industry. "We must also look at the brutal violence in over-exploiting workers," Manuel Ahumada, president of the CTC umbrella union, told the wire service. "Violence is also generated with fear, over-exploitation and precarious situations."

Anglo American halts Los Bronces mine ops due to protest


25 March 2014

SANTIAGO - Global miner Anglo American Plc said on Monday it was halting operations at its Los Bronces copper mine in central Chile because of a violent protest by contract workers.

Los Bronces, perched high in the Andes near Santiago, produced 416,300 tonnes of copper last year, roughly 7 percent of Chile's overall output.

In the early hours of Monday, contract workers launched a protest over what they say are layoff threats and the London-listed miner's refusal to negotiate a series of demands. It is unclear how long the labor action could last.

Still, a union leader said there was interest in reaching agreement with the company to resolve the dispute.

The demonstrators set tires on fire, damaged installations and looted during the protest, according to Anglo.

The protests highlight growing tensions with contract workers, who are usually paid less than their staff counterparts for similar work, at a time when Chile's mining boom is slowing.

"The issue with contract workers explodes once in a while," said Juan Carlos Guajardo, the head of mining think tank CESCO.

He stressed, however, "the violence is very concerning. It's generating more and more complications in Chilean mining ... I think we could see more cases like these."

Chile has been hit by massive mining strikes in the past, especially when copper prices were higher and workers were seeking a bigger share of the pie.

Los Bronces Halted

Anglo American said on Monday afternoon it had been forced to halt operations because of the protests.

"The process of halting the mineral-processing plants has started, and once finished the evacuation of workers will begin, in so far as we have safety guarantees for the internal and external roads," Anglo said in a statement, adding it had asked for authorities' help.

All of Los Bronces' roughly 4,000 contract workers are mobilized, according to Manuel Ahumada, president of the CTC umbrella union.

The company's Chilean Twitter account posted a picture of hooded men wheeling gigantic tires and another one showing black smoke billowing from a fire that appeared to be engulfing a row of tires.

"Violence is also generated with fear, over-exploitation and precarious situations," he said. "We must also look at the brutal violence in over-exploiting workers."

Anglo owns 50.1 percent of the deposit. Chilean state miner Codelco and Japanese trading houses Mitsui & Co and Mitsubishi Corp also have stakes in the complex.

Anglo American's other mines in Chile are operating normally, the company added. (Reporting by Alexandra Ulmer; Editing by Steve Orlofsky and Chris Reese)


Glencore Xstrata's Peru copper mine hit by 48-hour strike


25 March 2014

LIMA, Peru - Workers at Glencore Xstrata's Tintaya-Antapaccay copper mine in the Peruvian Andes have launched a 48-hour strike to demand a bigger share of profit, the union said on Monday.

The deposit that produced 151,200 tonnes of copper last year is operating normally, a Peru-based Glencore spokesman said.

Around 900 of 1,200 miners have dropped their tools at the mine located in the Cusco region, said Carlos Roman, the secretary general of the union.

"Today we started a 48-hour stoppage, with peaceful protests near the mine so that the company takes note of our demands," he said.

"Glencore has been operating in Tintaya-Antapaccay for 16 months and has been implementing drastic changes to labor relations. Integrity and good faith have become a thing of the past," the union said in a statement.

Peru is the world's third-biggest copper producer. The crucial mining industry accounts for roughly 60 percent of total exports. (Reporting by Teresa Cespedes; Writing by Alexandra Ulmer; editing by Matthew Lewis)

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