Codelco says Chuquicamata mine operating normally despite protests

The logo of Codelco, the world's largest copper producer, is seen at their headquarters in downtown Santiago, Chile March 29, 2018. REUTERS/Ivan Alvarado

SANTIAGO (Reuters) - Chile’s Codelco’s said its sprawling Chuquicamata copper mine was operating normally after workers blocked access to the mine overnight Thursday.

Unions at Chuquicamata, the state miner’s second largest by output, have protested for months over plans to transform the century-old open pit into an underground mine, a key facet of Codelco’s $39 billion, 10-year drive to update its aging deposits.

Workers on Wednesday had cut off access routes to the northern Chilean deposit, saying the company had failed to properly include mine workers in the redesign, and citing continuing issues with the company’s healthcare provisions.

Codelco said the protests have not affected operations.

“We’re operating normally, and workers are entering the mine without any problem,” a spokeswoman for Codelco told Reuters.

Codelco, the world’s top copper producer, signed 27-month contracts in December 2016 with six Chuquicamata unions after relatively rapid talks, but the labor situation has worsened recently as the mine overhaul encountered delays for technical reasons and rising costs.

“We’re conscious of the fact that the redesign is a necessity for Chuquicamata, but we also know that the process should be inclusive ... of workers,” Chuquicamata Union No. 1 said in a statement on Thursday.

Chuquicamata produced 330,900 tonnes of copper in 2017, out of Codelco’s total of 1.734 million tonnes.

Reporting Fabian Cambero; Writing by Dave Sherwood; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe