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Workers strike at world's biggest copper mine

Workers at Chile’s Escondida copper mine, the world’s largest, started what they warned would be a massive strike at the mine early on Monday to demand a wage and benefits hike from its foreign owners.
/ Source: Reuters

Workers at Chile’s Escondida copper mine, the world’s largest, started what they warned would be a massive strike at the mine early on Monday to demand a wage and benefits hike from its foreign owners.

“It has started,” Union Secretary Pedro Marin told Reuters.

BHP Billiton, the world’s largest miner, owns 57.5 percent of the open-pit mine, while No. 2 Rio Tinto Ltd has a 30 percent stake.

Before the strike, Escondida was expected to produce close to 1.3 million tonnes of copper in 2006, about the same as it did in 2005.

A spokeswoman at Billiton told Reuters over the weekend that the company had a contingency plan in place to protect output, but would not give details.

More than 2,000 union workers were to take part in the strike at Escondida after negotiations for a new wage contract failed even after government mediation.

Marin said the workers would march in Antofagasta, the major city in the mining region, to press their demands for a better wage deal. He expected to draw support from others who use the city as a base and work in other mines in the region.

Chile is the world’s largest copper producer, and host to many international miners.

He said they would employ noisy tactics like the ones used by Chilean students in nationwide protests in June.

Workers are demanding a large increase in salary and benefits that reflect soaring copper prices, while the company seeks to protect itself from the next cyclical downturn in prices for the red metal.

Nearly 1 million Chilean students took part in nationwide strikes in early June as they demanded more education funding in destructive marches in the capital Santiago.