Codelco halts world's largest open pit copper mine over strike

Codelco halts world's largest open pit copper mine over strike

Chuquicamata is the heart of Codelco’s main division, accounting for over 40% of the miner’s total production in 2014. (Image courtesy of Codelco via Flickr.)

A week-long strike by contract workers at world’s No.1 copper producer Codelco spread Tuesday to Chuquicamata, the Chilean company’s second largest mine, forcing the miner to halt operations.

Protesters began demonstrations on July 21 in demand for better pay and working conditions, blocking roads into some of the country's largest copper mines.

Things took a turn for the worse Friday, when a worker was shot dead by police near Codelco's smaller Salvador mine in northern Chile. Strikers then proceeded to seize control of the operation over the weekend and it remains occupied by the protesters, Cooperatival.cl reported (in Spanish).

Striking workers want Codelco to join their negotiations with the mining company's contractors and subcontractors, but the state-owned miner has so far declined.

Codelco Chief Executive Officer, Nelson Pizarro, did however meet with companies that employ the striking workers on Tuesday afternoon. A few hours later, the miner said in a statement (in Spanish) that operations had “normalized”.

Chuquicamata, which is located 1,650 km north of the Chilean capital of Santiago, is Codelco’s main division, accounting for over 40% of the miner’s total production in 2014.

The copper giant is in the midst of executing a $25 billion investment plan aimed to expand its decades-old flagship mines and search for new high-grade deposits.

Copper, which accounts for 60% of Chile's exports and 15% of gross domestic product, has lost 11% of its value during the past year. Only yesterday it hit a six-year low as slowing demand in China increased concerns over a glut.

Codelco halts world's largest open pit copper mine over strike

Chuquicamata, the world’s largest open-pit mine, has been in operation for nearly a century.