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Freeport Cerro Verde Miners End Stoppage, May Strike Again

Sept. 19 (Bloomberg) -- Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold Inc.’s Peruvian copper miners may strike again next week after ending a four-day work stoppage over the weekend, a union official said.

Workers at Freeport’s Sociedad Minera Cerro Verde SAA mine ended the strike Sept. 17 after it was declared illegal by the government and clashes with police wounded six workers, union General Secretary Leoncio Amudio said. Government-brokered talks aimed at a one-year accord are set to resume today, Amudio said. The strike may restart on Sept. 27, he said.

“The company has acted in bad faith,” Amudio said yesterday in a phone interview from the city of Arequipa, 750 kilometers (466 miles) southeast of Lima. “Conciliation has failed so far, and after this brutality, there’s no way we’ll accept a long-term agreement.”

Workers in Peru, Chile, Bolivia and Indonesia have walked off their jobs at copper, gold and zinc mines this year, seeking better working conditions and a larger percentage of record profits. Miners at Cerro Verde held a 48-hour strike earlier this month and Freeport’s Grasberg copper and gold mine in Indonesia began a month-long strike Sept. 15.

Copper and molybdenum concentrates weren’t “materially affected” by the strike, Freeport spokesman Eric Kinneberg said in an e-mailed response to questions. The company will continue negotiating a new labor contract, he said.

‘Workers Cheated’

Cerro Verde, which is studying a $3.5 billion expansion to increase annual copper output by 45 percent, produced 312,336 metric tons last year. Grasberg, where some miners returned to work yesterday, produced 553,000 tons in 2010.

Copper for December delivery fell as much as 13.75 cents, or 3.5 percent, to $3.794 a pound on the Comex in New York, the lowest price for a most active contract since Dec. 1, and was at $3.817 a pound at 9:02 a.m. New York time. On the London Metal Exchange, copper fell 3.3 percent to $8,413.25 a metric ton.

Freeport, not the government, must solve its labor issues, Peru’s Energy & Mines Minister Carlos Herrera said Sept. 16.

Freeport risks having prolonged strikes by not engaging more actively in negotiations, said Juan Muniz, a mining consultant and former operations manager at Cerro Verde. The company has sent a lawyer with a written proposal to the government-brokered talks, the union says.

“The workers feel like they’re being cheated out of money that was already promised,” Muniz said in a Sept. 16 interview. “Cerro Verde should take a more hands-on, human approach and actually sit down and negotiate.”

Freeport fell 95 cents, or 2.2 percent, to $41.59 on Sept. 16 in New York Stock Exchange composite trading. Cerro Verde dropped 2.4 percent to $39.05 in Lima.

To contact the reporter on this story: Alex Emery in Lima at aemery1@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Dale Crofts at dcrofts@bloomberg.net.

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