May 1, 2007 / 5:43 PM / 12 years ago

UPDATE 1-Peru mining strike continues but talks scheduled

(Updates with company group’s comments, details on Southern Copper and Buenaventura operations)

By Maria Luisa Palomino

LIMA, May 1 (Reuters) - A nationwide mining strike that has drawn tepid support from Peruvian workers continued for a second day on Tuesday and the union federation leading the walkout said talks with the government would resume in the afternoon.

The National Federation of Metallurgic and Steel Miners launched the indefinite strike on Monday to demand better job benefits and an end to company outsourcing. Some mines were affected, but many of the top pits operated normally.

“We have agreed to a meeting at 5 p.m. (2200 GMT) today. We’ll see what chances there are of overcoming the problem we have and reaching an accord,” Luis Castillo, the federation’s leading official, told Reuters.

A spokesman at the Labor Ministry confirmed the meeting and said the minister, Susana Pinilla, would participate along with other government officials.

“I think this is the path for solving these problems and avoiding these social conflicts in the future,” Ysaac Cruz, president of the National Society of Mining, Petroleum and Energy — which groups private companies — told local radio.

Pinilla said on Monday that less than 5 percent of the mining sector’s 120,000 workers had gone on strike, while Prime Minister Jorge del Castillo called the protest a flop.

The union leader accused the government of minimizing the walkout, which he said some 27,000 workers had joined.

“We’re not going to end the strike until there’s a solution for mining workers,” Castillo said.

Peru’s mining federation is made up of 74 unions, representing about 22,000 workers.

Metals markets were keeping an eye on the strike because Peru is among the world’s top two silver producers, and is No. 3 in copper and zinc and No. 5 in gold.

Tuesday was a market holiday in much of the world, including Peru.

Workers at Southern Copper Corp.’s (SPC.LM) PCU.N Toquepala and Cuajone mines and its Ilo smelter continued their strike on Tuesday, union leaders confirmed.

Southern Copper is one of the world’s biggest copper miners and is controlled by Grupo Mexico (GMEXICOB.MX). Company officials said on Monday operations were “almost normal” because Southern Copper had hired temporary contract workers.

Buenaventura (BUEv.LM) (BVN.N), the largest Peruvian precious metals miner, said on Monday that workers were striking at its main silver mine, Uchucchacua.

Company Chief Executive Roque Benavides told Reuters late on Monday that production had not fallen because the company tapped its stocks, but he said they would last only about two days.

The government said it would declare the strike illegal, but not before Thursday. Once that happens, companies will be able to fire workers absent from work for three straight days.

Mining is one of the South American country’s main economic drivers and accounts for more than half of export earnings.

The majority of Peru’s mines are controlled by large multinational companies, whose profits have surged on high metals prices. Workers’ demands for a greater share of those profits have also intensified.

The last nationwide strike took place three years ago, when miners stopped work for 48 hours to protest the previous government’s labor policies.

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