* Work stoppage not seen as imminent
* Workers to decide on first actions next Friday
By Alexandra Ulmer
SANTIAGO, March 15 Codelco's unionized workers
threatened on Friday to stage a 24-hour work stoppage at all
units of the world's top copper miner within 30 days to demand
greater job security and pensions.
Workers will start deciding what actions to launch next
Friday, with the aim of eventually building up to a nationwide
stoppage, union leader Ariel Rivero told Reuters.
"We've taken a very firm resolution, ... we're not
backtracking on the work stoppage," Raimundo Espinoza, head of
the powerful Federation of Copper Workers umbrella union group,
said to the cheers of boisterous workers. The group represents
some 15,000 Codelco workers. Espinoza is also a member of
State-owned Codelco, which owns around 11 percent of the
world's copper reserves, is seeking to propel its annual copper
output from around 1.7 million tonnes to over 2 million tonnes
by 2021, but is battling ageing mines, soaring costs and labor
Union leaders say they fear restructuring of Codelco's tired
mines could lead to benefit cuts, layoffs and the sale of
world-class red metal deposits that are key to the state's
In mid-2011, thousands of Codelco workers held their first
national strike in nearly two decades, downing their tools for a
day in what is an ongoing feud over the future of the company.
While the specter of strikes in Chile, the world's top
copper producer, has spooked investors, copper prices fell on
Friday after the release of mixed U.S. economic data.
Codelco was not immediately available for comment.
Several union leaders say they fear the conservative
government of Sebastian Pinera is seeking to privatize the
copper miner. They're also upset about an increase in contract
workers, a trend they see undermining stable employment.
Tensions between workers and Codelco's management, led by
CEO Thomas Keller, a former executive at retailer Cencosud, and
Chairman Gerardo Jofre, seen as close to billionaire Pinera,
have sometimes run high.
Earlier this week, Jofre said "it's bad to launch work
stoppages as sport," drawing rebuke from unions.