MAC: Mines and Communities

Chile president endorses copper deal at Codelco

Published by MAC on 2008-05-19
Source: Thomson Reuters

SANTIAGO - Chilean President Michelle Bachelet has given her word that Codelco, the state copper miner, will adhere to accords that ended a sometimes violent strike at three of its divisions in which some people got injured. The presidential endorsement of accords, approved on May 5 after 20 days of on-again, off-again talks amid protests, could smooth out remaining friction in a continuing saga between Codelco and subcontracted workers demanding pay and benefits in line with Codelco's regular employees.

Workers ended their strike, the last of a series over the past three years, after accepting a government-brokered proposal that included Codelco keeping agreements it made last year to hire many subcontract workers on a permanent basis.

"One thing that Codelco is going to do by all means is comply with the law, so it's going to have to internalize some workers," Bachelet told reporters.

But Codelco will only be internalizing a fraction of the 5,000 workers demanded by subcontractors, or those with functions identical to full-time, unionized staff.

Bachelet, Chile's first woman president, came to power in early 2006 after an election campaign in which she lent support to the subcontractors' fight for equal pay for equal work.

She pledged on Wednesday that Codelco would honor its commitments, but discredited complaints by some workers that Codelco is failing to meet strike-ending agreements.

Cristian Cuevas, the president of the subcontractor group Confederation of Copper Workers (CTC) and other labor leaders were in the third day of a hunger strike on Wednesday to demand further action from Codelco.

Workers are on alert to resume the protests that saw three of Codelco's five divisions shut for parts of last month.

"I personally think that commitments are being fulfilled here, that there are no reasons for a hunger strike, and it is lamentable, and clearly the government is going to comply with its obligations under the law," said Bachelet.

The subcontractors' strike was sometimes violent. Some Codelco employees got hurt when they were struck by rocks thrown at the buses that were taking them to the mines.

The protests also reduced production at Codelco, the world's largest copper producer, and pushed copper prices to record highs on global markets. Codelco produces about 1.7 million tonnes of copper per year and Chile is the world's top source of the red metal. (Reporting by Pav Jordan; Editing by John Picinich)

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