Striking miners at BHP’s Escondida block roads, clash with police

Workers at the BHP Billiton’s (ASX, NYSE:BHP) (LON:BLT) Escondida mine in Chile, the world's biggest copper mine, blocked several access roads Wednesday as they complete their third week of strike, triggering violent confrontations with police.

The group of protesters illegally set barricades on the main roads to the mine and set tires on fire, which eventually cause police intervention, AFP reported (in Spanish).

Incidents come despite a local judge ruled late Tuesday that a deferred payment from 2016 should go out to workers within 48 hours.

Miners have accused BHP, which holds a 57% stake in the mine, of offering no pay increase, seeking to cut bonuses, and removing top-up payments for those who take voluntary redundancy, as well as changing shift hours.

The company, in turn, has blamed miners for causing damages to equipment and installations. Last month, it decided to stop copper production and declared force majeure on contracts from the mine during the strike.

Both sides have yet to reach an agreement over topics such as shift pattern changes, one-off bonus sizes and fresh wages, but a mine’s spokesman said last week management is willing to return to the negotiating table as many times as necessary to reach a new collective agreement.

He added the firm won’t replace any workers until past 30 days of the labour action, even though it can legally hire temporary workers after 15 days of a strike.

Today’s incidents come despite a local judge ruled late Tuesday that a deferred payment from 2016 should go out to workers within 48 hours, then union said in a statement (in Spanish).

Escondida, located in the copper-rich Antofagasta region, in northern Chile, supports just over 10,000 full-time jobs and it is forecast to produce nearly 1.1 million tonnes of the metal this year, according to BHP figures. That is equivalent to more than 5% of the world’s total copper production.