BHP says strike at Escondida copper mine “unjustifiable”

Rio Tinto currently partners with BHP at Chile’s Escondida mine, the world’s largest copper operation. (Image courtesy of BHP | Facebook.)

Mining giant BHP (ASX: BHP) said on Wednesday the strike announced by unionized workers at its Escondida copper mine in Chile for November 21 and 23, was based on false accusations.

A union at the mine, the world’s largest copper operation, said workers were concerned for their safety as BHP had allegedly failed to comply with legal regulations and the current collective agreement.

In a statement, the Melbourne, Australia based miner denied the claims, saying it has always operated the mine following the “highest standards of occupational safety and risk prevention.”

BHP said the “forceful action” announced by Sindicato 1 was aimed at pressuring the company to pay a contribution to the union and a bonus to its partners. This, the company said, has no legal basis.

“An action of this kind creates safety risks for workers, compromises our facilities and affects the operational continuity of the mine, which is detrimental to the economic and social development of the region and the country,” BHP said in the statement.

Chile is the world’s top copper producer, and sales of the metal make up for about 60% its export earnings.

In 2017, Escondida workers staged a 44-day strike, the longest in Chilean mining history. The labour action caused the company $740 million in losses and meant a contraction of about 1.3% of Chile’s GDP.

BHP added that it was open to dialogue and hopeful that the union would end the stoppage at the operation, responsible for about 5% of the world’s total copper output.

While majority-owned and operated by BHP, Rio Tinto and Japanese companies such as Mitsubishi Corp also hold stakes in the mine.