Chile: copper strike ends

More than 2,000 workers went on strike Aug. 7 at the Escondida mine in northern Chile, the world’s largest privately owned copper mine. The workers were demanding a contract with an increase in salary and benefits that reflects this year’s sharp increase in copper prices. During the work stoppage, most of the strikers were camped out at the sports complex of the Escondida company’s corporate offices in the northern coastal city of Antofagasta. The strike ended after workers voted in a secret ballot late on Aug. 31 to accept a new 40-month contract providing a 5% wage increase and a special $17,000 bonus. The union had sought an 8% raise; management initially offered 4%.

The Escondida company is controlled by the Anglo-Australian global mining group BHP Billiton. During the strike, the company replaced 50 striking workers with outside operators and reassigned more than 250 interns; according to the strikers, it also doubled the number of contract workers at the mine. The mine usually has some 3,000 contract workers. Another 1,000 regular employees are not part of the union and did not strike. Still, the strike reduced the mine’s production by 50%. It was expected to take up to a week for full production to resume following the strike. The Escondida mine produces 8% of the world’s copper supply. (Reuters, Aug. 27; BBC News, Aug. 31)

Workers at two of Chile’s five state-owned copper mines–including the largest of the five, Chuquicamata–are expected to start contract negotiations soon, and may also go on strike. (AP, Aug. 28)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Sept. 3

See our last post on Chile.