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Striking miners at BHP's Spence mine dig in heels

Published by MAC on 2009-11-16
Source: Reuters (2009-11-13)

Striking miners at BHP's Spence mine dig in heels

The workers at the Chilean mine, who accuse BHP Billiton of stalling contract talks threaten to invade installations and block roads

Alonso Soto, Reuters

13 November 2009

SANTIAGO - Strikers at Chile's Spence copper mine on Thursday dug in their heels and threatened to invade installations and block roads, accusing owner BHP Billiton of stalling on contract talks to defuse their month-long stoppage.

Flanked by dozens of miners in the capital Santiago, union leader Andres Ramirez said Spence workers camped outside the deposit in northern Chile's arid Atacama desert may take matters into their own hands if the wage dispute drags on.

The 31 day strike has fanned supply fears in Chile, the world's top producer of the red metal, and could add pressure to copper prices as workers at Zambia's KonKola Copper Mines (KCM) halted most operations over a wage dispute.

Workers at Peru's key Antamina copper mine prepared to strike after wage talks collapsed on Tuesday.

"If the company insists in not negotiating with the union, then we will have to use force," said Ramirez, a 31-year-old mine truck driver who traveled to Santiago to seek government mediation in the stalemate.

"Our patience is running out and in 30 days or so we could resort to something more radical."

Spence workers clad in their khaki uniforms banged drums and blew whistles in front of BHP's offices in a towering glass building in Santiago's ritzy business district.

Several government attempts to revive talks have failed as both sides blame each other for the stalemate.

A BHP spokesman in Santiago was not immediately available for comment, but the company has said it is open to talks.

The 560-member union downed tools on Oct. 13 over contract disagreements, halting extraction at Spence that planned to produce 200,000 tonnes of copper this year.

The impact on production is not yet known, but the company said it had to lower output to a minimum.

However, BHP was able to avert a strike at Escondida copper mine, the world's biggest deposit, and is negotiating an early deal with workers at its 104,000 tonnes-per-year Cerro Colorado operation.

Some mining companies said BHP's generous settlement at Escondida, which included $25,000 in bonuses for each worker, set the bar too high for other firms gearing up for contract talks, such as state-run Codelco, the world's top copper producer. (Editing by Simon Gardner and Jim Marshall)

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