Barrick Chile mine workers set to strike, say would delay project

Wed Oct 30, 2013 12:44pm EDT

* Workers poised to strike after rejecting contract proposal

* News of likely stoppage comes day before Barrick results due

* Unclear when strike would materialize

SANTIAGO, Oct 30 (Reuters) - The majority of Chilean union workers at Barrick Gold Corp's suspended Pascua-Lama gold mine have voted to strike, which they say could delay the reactivation of the controversial project, according to a union statement on Wednesday.

Both the country's Supreme Court and environmental regulator SMA have halted the complex, which straddles the Chilean and Argentine border, until new infrastructure is built to prevent the mine from polluting nearby water supplies.

Roughly 60 percent of the 300-worker union involved in the construction of the infrastructure has voted in favor of the labor stoppage after rejecting the miner's contract proposal on grounds its benefits were insufficient, the union said in a statement.

The last round of voting will wrap up on Wednesday night. It was not immediately clear when a potential strike would materialize.

The union said that Toronto-based Barrick has "pressured union workers to ... train contract workers, who would replace them during a potential strike, threatening workers with retaliation if they refuse to provide the training."

"However, up to now union workers have refused to train the contract workers," the union added. The union also says Barrick has treated them unfairly and it denounces a recent wave of lay-offs.

Chilean law states that companies can, under certain circumstances, hire replacement workers to fill the gap left by strikers.

Barrick could not immediately be reached for comment.

News of the potential labor unrest comes a day before the miner reports quarterly results, when it will likely raise the cost estimate for Pascua-Lama for the third time in less than two years.

Last May, Chile's regulator told Reuters that it would be one to two years at the earliest before Pascua-Lama would be reactivated, given the time it will take to build the water management system. 

Barrick has stopped construction on the roughly $8.5 billion mine and submitted a plan for water management infrastructure to the SMA. The miner said in June that Pascua-Lama, on which it has already spent around $5.4 billion, had been delayed until mid-2016.