MAC/20: Mines and Communities

Workers stage protests at Codelco mines in Chile

Published by MAC on 2007-06-25

Workers stage protests at Codelco mines in Chile

Source: Reuters

25th June 2007

SANTIAGO (Reuters) - Subcontract workers blocked roads and set fire to buses close to mines owned by Chilean state-owned copper miner Codelco on Monday, but the company said output was not affected.

The workers, who are not employed directly by Codelco but work for other companies doing jobs like catering, driving buses, clearing earth and maintaining machinery at Codelco mines, said their protest was a national strike, which would hit output at the world's biggest copper miner. "This is a general strike," said Cristian Cuevas, a spokesman for the newly-formed Confederation of Copper Workers (CTC) that comprises some 30,000 subcontracted workers at Codelco.

"They (the workers) are taking the access roads to the various mines ... everything has come to a halt across all their divisions."

The subcontractors have threatened strikes for weeks across the five divisions of Codelco, which produces about 1.8 million tonnes of copper per year. They are demanding higher wages and improved working conditions to reflect increased Codelco profits.

Codelco said the company had put contingency plans in place and output was normal at all five divisions. "They've tried to affect our production, so far without success," a company spokesman said. "It's simply a blockade."

The spokesman said the company's largest division Codelco Norte, which accounts for over half the company's total copper output, was operating as normal. "There are no blockades and no problems of any type at Codelco Norte," he said.

The most serious situation was at the Teniente division, where protesters burned seven buses and wrecked a company office, dragging furniture out of it and setting fire to it, he said. The road to the mine was blocked but miners inside were continuing to work.

Codelco says it is in no position to meet the demands of subcontracted workers because it does not employ them. Subcontract workers have been sparring with Codelco over improved labor conditions since 2005, staging sometimes violent demonstrations but never affecting production.

Codelco also employs 14,000 full-time unionized workers.

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