Copper strike will cost Chile up to $35 million

Unions representing more than 25,000 workers at state-owned Codelco, and other firms including BHP Billiton (ASX, NYSE:BHP) and Anglo American (LON:AAL) have started a nationwide 24-hour strike that will cost Codelco up to $35 million in losses, said CEO Thomas Keller in a letter to the local authorities.

The executive said the company has taken “contingency measures” to protect people, facilities and equipment in order to ensure the continuity of Codelco’s critical processes.

According to industry estimates, if all major copper mines in Chile halted their operations for a day, the country would lose over $120 million in copper exports alone, and a total of 15,600 tonnes of red metal output a day.

The strike comes against a backdrop of a presidential election year and it 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 minerals exports. 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.