Codelco Workers Stage One-Day Strike at Chilean Copper Mines

Chilean copper miners at Codelco downed tools today to push for greater job security, halting production at the state-owned company that accounts for a 10th of global mine supply.

The Codelco strike will last for 24 hours, Miguel Lopez, a union leader at the state-owned producer, said by phone from the century-old Chuquicamata mine. While the umbrella union representing staff of non-state mines said yesterday its members would join the strike, Anglo American Plc and Antofagasta Plc said today their mines were running normally.

Copper prices rallied yesterday as unions vowed to hold the country’s first nationwide strike to seek limits on outsourcing, changes in pension regulations and better working conditions for all shift workers. The strike is outside of normal contractual negotiations and comes as Chile gears up for presidential elections this year.

On the London Metal Exchange, copper for delivery in three months rose 2 percent to $7,599.25 a metric ton ($3.45 a pound) at 3:58 p.m., heading for the biggest increase since Jan. 2.

Unions will continue protests until demands are met, Raimundo Espinoza, who heads Codelco’s union and represents workers on the company’s board, told reporters in Santiago yesterday, without elaborating on plans beyond the 24-hour strike. Codelco is using more than 30,000 contract workers to run and maintain mines as well as carry out $25 billion of expansions.

‘Symbolic’ Protests

Gustavo Tapia, head of the Mining Federation of Chile, said yesterday that workers at mines owned by Anglo and BHP Billiton Ltd. would join a strike aimed at stopping all mine production. La Tercera newspaper quoted him as saying subsequently that protests would be limited to delays in starting shifts.

John MacKenzie, head of copper at Anglo American, told reporters that the only protest suffered by the company today was a small blockade at the entrance of one of its units. Antofagasta Minerals SA Chief Executive Officer Diego Hernandez said workers at non-state mines are supporting Codelco workers symbolically.

Codelco’s strike comes after a three-week stoppage at Chilean ports that restricted copper shipments and pushed up prices of the metal last week. Strike disruptions may increase heading into the November presidential elections, Hernandez said in an interview yesterday.

Emergency Shift

The only staff working today at Codelco, whose daily production is about 4,600 metric tons, are emergency shifts running operations that can’t be stopped, Mining Minister Hernan de Solminihac told reporters in Santiago today. There are no reports of strikes at privately-owned mines, he said.

“This stoppage isn’t justified and means $35 million in lost revenue to all Chileans,” Codelco CEO Thomas Keller said in a statement posted on the company’s website.

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