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Union calls for strike vote at Chile’s Escondida, world’s largest private copper mine

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – The labor union of the Chilean copper mine Escondida, producer of more copper than any other in the world and controlled by the Anglo-Australian BHP, called on Wednesday (28) for  workers to approve a strike and reject the company’s proposal regarding their labor demands.

The leaders of the No. 1 union of the Escondida mine, in northern Chile, which – with an annual production of 1.1 million tons – is the mine that produces the most copper in the world, called on its nearly 2,200 members to vote between Thursday and Saturday to reject the latest offer presented by the company in the framework of the collective bargaining process that they have been carrying out for almost two months.

In a communiqué, the union explained that the company’s latest proposal “seeks to increase working hours, reduce breaks, modify working hours, apply measures that affect the protection of sick workers.”

“We call for a massive vote to reject this latest offer, to declare a legal strike, the only tool left to the workers in this scenario to press for an urgent rectification in the way of doing things on the part of the company’s management,” said the union communiqué.

Sheets of copper cathode are pictured at BHP Billiton’s Escondida, the world’s biggest copper mine, in Antofagasta. (Photo internet reproduction)

The workers are asking for a bonus in recognition of their work during the Covid-19 pandemic, “the equivalent of 1% of the dividends received by the owners”, to be paid once only. They are also demanding a career development plan and education benefits for their children.

“The favorable circumstances of the industry and in particular of the company, do not give (…) excuses for not responding favorably to our reasonable requests. Minera Escondida projects revenues of more than US$10 billion this year,” the statement said. Minera Escondida has so far not replied to the union’s announcement.

In 2017 Escondida workers went on strike for 44 days, the longest in the history of Chilean mining. The strike generated US$740 million in losses to the company and meant a contraction of about 1.3% of Chilean GDP.

Chile is the world’s largest copper producer, with some 5.6 million tons per year.

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