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BHP’s Escondida copper mine in Chile hit by sudden strike

Workers at BHP Billiton’s (ASX, NYSE: BHP) Escondida copper mine in Chile, the world’s largest, began a 24 hours strike at 8:00 am local time Wednesday over pay and working conditions.

Union leader Marcelo Tapia told La Tercera (in Spanish) that workers from other BHP mines, Spence and Cerro Colorado, have also joined the labour action.

Escondida is located 3,100 meters above sea level, in northern Chile, close to the city of Antofagasta. In 2012 its output reached almost 1.076 million tonnes of copper, 31.3% more than in 2011.

BHP Billiton owns the majority of with a 57.5% stake. Rio Tinto (30.0%), JECO Corporation (10.0%) and JECO 2 Ltd (2.5%) also hold shares in the copper mine.

About 600 contract workers were fired in March at Escondida as a result of their involvement in demonstrations that took place between February 28 and March 3.

At the time workers obstructed roads leading to the mine and blocked the main entrance to the pit, in demand for better wages and benefits. This forced BHP to temporarily suspend construction related to the fifth phase of the mine expansion project.