SANTIAGO, Chile—Three unions from state mining enterprise Codelco, the largest producer of copper in the world, are on strike after rejecting a new labor agreement, a union leader told AFP on Tuesday.
The Suplant union began a strike on Tuesday at the Andina mining division to join two other unions that started industrial action last week.
It comes just days after Anglo-Australian mining giant BHP reached a deal with workers at the world’s biggest copper mine, Escondida, also in Chile, to avoid strike action there.
The Andina unions have rejected a new labor agreement that removes health benefits for new employees, as well as compensation related to years of service.
“Suplant is declaring a strike because Codelco’s executives want to reduce labor costs by removing health and taking away the rights to compensation for years of service, and we won’t allow it,” said Clodomiro Vasquez, Suplant’s president.
The Andina division, situated more than 3,000-meters above sea level in the center of the country, comprises the underground Rio Blanco mine and the open air Sur Sur mine, which together produced more than 184,000 metric tons of copper in 2020.
The three striking unions represent 1,300 of the 1,437 Andina workers.
The other two unions—the Industrial Union of Labor Integration and the Unified Union of Workers—released a statement saying “there has been a tremendous effort during the pandemic” and that they worked “under extreme cold and heat, exposed to physical and chemical risks… mental burden and overwork.”
Codelco, which produces eight percent of the world’s copper, said the offer “represents the company’s maximum effort.”
While much of Chile was put under lockdown at times during the pandemic, the vital mining industry was always kept operational.
Chile is the world’s largest copper producer with 5.6 million tons a year that makes up 28 percent of global output, much of which is sold to China, the world’s biggest consumer.
Mining makes up 10-15 percent of Chile’s GDP and half of its exports.