No end in sight for strike at La Escondida

A 39-day-long stoppage at La Escondida, the world’s largest copper mine, may continue for up to three months if the company does not comply with worker’s demands, union leaders warned this weekend.

After holding a series of meetings throughout Saturday and Sunday, No.1 Union, which has 2,500 members, rejected Minera Escondida’s most recent proposal of offering them end-of-conflict bonuses for the equivalent of USD 17,369, a wage readjustment based on the consumer price index, and a new collective contract that lasts for 42 months while keeping in place a former agreement in which the company promised to treat equally both long-time and new employees.

According to the workers, this proposal doesn’t deal with the “outrageous conditions” that led them to down their tools at the start of February. They demand a 7% wage increase, bonuses for some USD 38,000 and to keep in place their private medical insurance, which guarantees 100% coverage with no copayment.

In order to present their demands once again, workers are expected to meet with Minera Escondida’s President, Marcelo Castillo, on Monday, March 20.

Earlier this week, Castillo warned that he may start hiring temporary workers to replace those joining the strike action, given that BHP Billiton (ASX, NYSE:BHP) (LON:BLT), which owns de 57,5% of the mine, has already reported more than $712 million in losses.

Talking to the media, Chile’s Mining Minister Aurora Williams also expressed concerns about the losses caused by the strike. “We estimate that some 3,400 tonnes of copper are not being produced each day of the strike. This translates into 100,000 tonnes per month. Since the strike is about to reach the 40-day mark, we have already lost some 110,000 tonnes of copper,” she said.

In a previous interview with MINING.com, Williams said that due to the conflict, the country’s copper production is predicted to have fallen by 12% in February when compared to the same month last year.

20% of Chile’s copper and 6% of the world’s red metal comes from Escondida.