Chile’s port strikes hitting fruit more than copper: experts

The series of fast-spreading port strikes in Chile, ignited by the top copper union mid-March, has started to also affect shipments of fruit, wine and wood pulp, keeping thousands of workers idle in the export-dependent nation.

According to the former head of state miner Codelco, Diego Hernandez, who is the current CEO of Antofagasta Minerals (LON: ANTO), the most affected sector by an extended stoppage at the ports will be fruit exporters.

The fruit industry, he explains, is in the middle of the packing and export season “and that is something that can’t wait,” he told Metal Bulletin (subs. required).

“It’s not just copper; all the export businesses in Chile are affected. That is the reason I don’t believe this strike will last too long. Everybody needs to make a big effort to solve this issue,” he said.

The nation’s current labour unrest sparked over the amount workers will be paid in exchange for skipping their lunch break in the northern port of Angamos three weeks ago. The protest has since shot through the country.

In addition to port-troubles and Codelco miners threats, workers at BHP Billiton (ASX, NYSE:BHP) and Anglo American (LON: AAL) operations in Chile are also announcing protests to push for greater job security.

All these strikes come against a backdrop of presidential election year and that they may heavily weigh on the results.

The South American country generates about a third of the world's copper and its stable economy is largely built around exports of minerals. The red metal alone accounts for nearly a third of government revenue.

Mining also provides most of the nation's poor their best shot at a middle-class life, especially in the rural and rugged desert areas of northern Chile, where the majority of mines are located.

Copper fell on Friday to within sight of the eight-month lows it hit yesterday, after extremely weak U.S. jobs data alarmed investors about the state of the country’s economy.

(Image courtesy of Chile’s Miners Federation)