Codelco Suffers ’Substantial’ Loss as Protests Halt Largest Mine

Codelco is experiencing “substantial” losses as protesters force Chile’s state-owned copper producer to stop operations at its most productive mine, Chief Executive Officer Thomas Keller said.

Codelco on March 30 said it declared force majeure at its Radomiro Tomic mining division in northern Chile after workers protested the company’s response to an accident that took the life of a worker a week earlier. The company is investigating the accident and is open to negotiation to end the stoppage, Keller told reporters in Santiago yesterday afternoon.

The company isn’t concerned that it will miss mid-term supply commitments and instead is focused on establishing trust with workers, Keller said. His comments came just hours after the country’s copper workers’ federation threatened to expand the protests to all Codelco operations, which account for more than 1/10th of the world’s copper supply from mines.

“Radomiro Tomic traditionally contributes the most to the company’s profits, so effectively the resources we stop generating are substantial,” Keller said. “Our concern right now, before we start calculating how much this truly is costing, is restarting activities as soon as possible. But the resources are notable.”

The Radomiro Tomic mine in the Atacama Desert produced 427,800 tons last year, or about 25 percent of the company’s total. Output also has declined at Codelco’s third-most productive division, Chuquicamata, which processes mineral from Radomiro Tomic, copper federation representative Juan Olguin said by phone yesterday morning.

‘Stronger Stance’

“We are taking a stronger stance and may protest nationwide,” Olguin said. “Executives responsible for the accident must permanently leave their posts. We don’t want to see them leave only to return.”

Julio Aranis Vargas, vice president of northern operations, temporarily replaced Radomiro Tomic manager Francisco Carvajal, Codelco said in a statement posted on its website March 30. Carvajal’s decision to resign as mine manager was his own and he will remain within the company, Keller said yesterday.

Codelco also is facing trouble exporting metal, as unionized port workers on March 16 started protests at the Angamos port for better working conditions. The company said March 28 it had stored about 30,000 tons that was due to be shipped from the Pacific Coast facility.

The setbacks come as Keller embarks on a plan to spend $25 billion over the coming decade to revamp Codelco’s mines, some of which are a century old. Codelco produced 1.76 million metric tons of copper last year, a 2 percent decline from 2011.

With the investments, Codelco can exceed production of 2 million tons. Without it, output will slump to 800,000 tons, as ore quality declines at sites such as Chuquicamata, the company has said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Randall Woods in Santiago at rwoods13@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Andre Soliani at asoliani@bloomberg.net

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