* Gov't calls for solution as port strikes spread
* Codelco, Antofagasta copper exports affected
* Gov't says nine ports affected in export-dependent Chile
SANTIAGO, Jan 8 The northern Chilean port of
Angamos resumed operations on Wednesday after striking workers
returned to their jobs, but unions at some southern ports went
on strike to protest what they called police repression,
according to a port operator and union.
Spiraling port stoppages, which started more than two weeks
ago when collective bargaining broke down at Angamos in part
over temporary workers' rights, could further stall copper
exports from Chile, the world's top producer of the metal.
Miners, including state producer Codelco and
Chilean miner Antofagasta Minerals, have been affected.
Much of Chile's copper, which accounts for roughly a third
of the world's supply, leaves from its ports on the Pacific
Ocean, often destined for consumption in top customer China.
"Port strikes in Chile come up every so often, but they
would probably take a few more weeks before it becomes a
significant issue," said analyst Patrick Jones at Nomura.
"Spot cathode premia in Asia could start to tick up if
enduser stocks become particularly tight given exchange stocks
are already low," he added.
A government spokesperson said strikes were affecting nine
ports. The exact status of operations at Chilean ports remained
unclear, and unions at Angamos and the central San Antonio port
did not respond to calls.
However, according to lists compiled by local media and the
southern Bio-Bio region port union, 13 ports - Angamos, San
Antonio, Iquique, Antofagasta, Mejillones Chanaral, Huasco,
Coronel, Schwager, San Vicente, Muelle CAP, Talcahuano and
Lirquen - were on strike.
The stoppages have sliced $130 million off Codelco's
December income, the company said on Tuesday.
Chilean miner Antofagasta Minerals said the
stoppages will have an effect on the timing of its exports.
"The strike has now spread to Antofagasta and Mejillones,
which means that we will not be able to export our cathodes,
which make up some 20 percent of our total production," an
Antofagasta spokesman said.
"However, at this stage, we do not expect the strike to last
long and as cathodes do not deteriorate with time and can be
stockpiled easily, the impact is just a delay in exports, but
not an overall reduction (on a quarterly/ annual basis)."
Glencore Xstrata Plc said it has not been affected
by the stoppages. Global miners Anglo American and BHP
Billiton declined to comment. Requests for comment from
the mining ministry went unanswered.
STRIKE SPREADS SOUTH
Workers at Angamos went on strike more than two weeks ago to
demand that temporary workers be included in collective
bargaining. The union says these workers are among the most
vulnerable and need stronger protection.
Other port workers then walked off the job in solidarity.
The government deemed the labor action illegal and called
for a swift solution to the stoppages.
Around 110 workers at Angamos returned to work on Wednesday
morning and port operations should return to normal in the next
few days, port operator Ultraport said in a statement. Codelco
is the main miner to use Angamos.
Ultraport said there were no clashes with police.
Some port unions said police forces had "repressed" workers
and harmed chances of negotiation at Angamos. The southern
Bio-Bio region's port workers union said it was joining the
strike in solidarity.
The clash underscores tensions in commodities-dependent
Chile. Many in the economically unequal country feel they have
not benefited from a massive mining bonanza.
The snowballing strike movement is reminiscent of the
extended port stoppages that slammed Chile's economy last year.
The strikes also originated in Angamos, where workers walked
off the job to seek a 30-minute lunch break and other benefits.
The dispute then escalated into a crisis for the Chilean
FRUIT EXPORTS SQUEEZED
Farmers and exporters are fretting about the stoppage at San
Antonio, where workers launched a strike to seek retroactive
lunch subsidies they say they are owed.
Commodites-dependent Chile is also a big exporter of fruits,
which are chiefly grown in the fertile central region and risk
going bad if they are stuck in ports for too long.
Chile would lose around $80 million dollars if no fruit is
shipped out of San Antonio this month, Agriculture Minister Luis
Mayol said on Wednesday.
The stoppage is hitting smack in the middle of the Southern
Hemisphere summer, when Chile typically increases its exports of
grapes, apples and avocados abroad.