Tensions mount in Chilean copper miners strike


Tensions mount in Chilean copper miners strike

Cesar Uco

16 February 2017

A week-old strike at Chile’s massive Escondida copper mine became more tense Wednesday after government mediation scheduled between the 2,500 striking workers union and BHP Billiton, the Anglo-Australian multinational mining conglomerate, were postponed until the weekend.

The talks, initially proposed by Chile’s state labor board, have now been put off until at least Saturday. The acceptance of the government intervention on the part of the copper miners union signals a willingness by the union to bow to BHP’s demands for wholesale concessions, including cuts in benefits and a two-tier system for new-hires. The workers had walked out demanding increased pay and bonuses. Last week, the union had rejected government mediation because of the company’s refusal to guarantee the same benefits to current and future workers.

According to the Chilean daily La Tercera, when the walkout began, workers were demanding “a seven percent salary readjustment, maintaining the benefits they currently have, a contract that lasts up to 36 months and a bonus of 250 million Chilean pesos (US$ 390,600), the highest amount for a bonus delivered in the mining sector.”

The delay in renewing the talks came after the mine’s management threatened legal action over alleged clashes last weekend, when it claimed that more than 300 people wearing hoods stormed into the mine site, forced contractors to flee and damaged the mine’s surveillance equipment. The union denied the charges, saying that 200 strikers had carried out a peaceful march at the mine site.

Escondida, located in northern Chile’s Atacama Desert, is the largest copper mine in the world, with an annual production of 1.14 million tons, 6 percent…

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