SANTIAGO (Reuters) - Chile’s Codelco, the world’s top copper miner, said it had resumed normal operations after its unionized workers struck a deal with government officials late Wednesday to end a day-long walk-off amid a week of raucous protests throughout Chile.
The Copper Workers Federation (FTC), which includes unionized workers from each of Codelco’s divisions, had joined a nation-wide strike of state workers in a show of support for protesters’ demands for action to tackle inequality in Chile.
Juan Olguín, the president of the federation, said the government of center-right Sebastian Pinera had agreed to a national roundtable aimed at improving work conditions at the state-run miner.
“Given that the government has complied with our demand for a national workgroup, we have called to end the strike,” Olguin told reporters. “We need to get back to normalcy in this country.”
At least 15 people have died in protests that started over a hike in public transport costs, prompting a weekend of riots, arson attacks and looting of businesses and the declaration of a state of emergency by President Sebastian Pinera over a large swath of Chile.
Pinera on Tuesday announced an ambitious raft of measures to quell protests, including a guaranteed minimum wage, a hike in the state pension offering and the stabilization of electricity costs.
Olguin acknowledged the newly announced social plan was a sign Pinera’s government was “capable of listening to the people’s demands.”
The strike earlier in the day shut down Codelco’s Andina copper mine near Santiago, and also hobbled its Ventanas copper smelting division, which operated on Wednesday with a skeleton crew to “ensure the security of its facilities.”
The company also said its Salvador division had operated only “partially.”
Mining Minister Baldo Prokurica told reporters late on Wednesday that it was too early to assess the impacts of the union strike on Codelco’s production.
Several of the world’s largest private miners, including BHP Group Ltd, Anglo American Plc, Teck Resources Ltd, also have operations in Chile, the world’s largest copper producer.
Most of their operations, many located well north of Santiago, have been minimally impacted by a week of protests.
Shift workers at BHP’s massive Escondida copper mine, the world’s largest, walked off the job for several hours yesterday in a show of support for protesters’ demands. Any impact on production by the short walk-off was likely to be recuperated in subsequent days, the union told Reuters.
Copper producer Antofagasta Plc said on Wednesday protests in Chile could cut its production by about 5,000 tonnes, equivalent to less than 3% of third quarter output, due to delays in supplies and travel disruptions for workers.
Anglo American said its flagship Los Bronces mine, just outside Santiago, had been forced to “adjust operations” given the unrest and disruptions to the country´s transport networks, but said the mine continued to operate normally.
Teck told Reuters in a statement that “there had been no material impact to Teck´s operations in Chile due to recent protests.”
The International Copper Study Group (ICSG) said on Wednesday the copper market would see a surplus of 281,000 tonnes in 2020.
“Taking into account such forecasts, the strike in Chile is unlikely to have any significant effect on the copper market,” said Anton Berlin, head of marketing at Russia’s Norilsk Nickel.
But Jimena Blanco, Head of Latin America research at consultancy Verisk Maplecroft, said it was “a matter of time” before the knock-on effects along the supply chain had a negative impact on the mining industry.
“For example, yesterday’s strike by the port workers’ union affected 20 of the country’s maritime facilities, including key mining export ones in Antofagasta and Iquique,” she said.
Reporting by Fabian Cambero; additional reporting by Polina Devitt and Dave Sherwood, Writing by Dave Sherwood; editing by David Evans, David Gregorio and Richard Pullin