Freeport’s Cerro Verde copper mine in Peru hit by strike

Freeport McMoran’s Cerro Verde copper mine. (Image courtesy of Huella Minera)

Workers at Freeport-McMoRan’s (NYSE:FCX) Cerro Verde copper mine in Peru began Friday an indefinite strike over wages, adding pressures to a stressed global copper market already affected by stoppages at two of the world’s biggest copper operations.

Around 1,300 unionized miners downed tools at 7:30 am local time, demanding special benefit payments to protect their incomes against a downturn in the metal prices, as well as better working conditions, local paper La República reports (in Spanish).

Cerro Verde produced just under 500,000 tonnes of the red metal last year, making it Peru’s largest copper mine.

The mine, controlled by Freeport-McMoRan with a 53.6% stake, Sumitomo Metal (21%) and Buenaventura (19.6%), produced just under 500,000 tonnes of the red metal last year, making it Peru’s top copper mine.

Prices for the metal rose Copper rose on Friday after six straight sessions of decline as a result. Three-month copper on the London Metal Exchange closed up 0.7% at $5,732 a tonne. It had fallen to $5,652, their lowest since Jan. 10, in the previous session.

The stoppage comes on the heels of a strike at BHP’s Escondida mine in Chile, the world’s biggest copper operation, where some 2,500 workers walked out of the job over a month ago demanding higher pay.

It also coincides with Freeport’s decision last month to halt production at its Indonesian Grasberg mine, the world’s fourth largest copper operation. The Phoenix-Arizona-based firm took such measure in light of a concentrate export ban that kicked off in January, and its currently negotiating a new operating licence and ownership agreements with the Asian nation.

Mining investments in Peru, which drove economic growth during the past decade, has fallen dramatically in the past two years as violence linked to relentless anti-mining sentiment continues to scare investors away.

It is estimated that about $22 billion worth of mining projects have been cancelled or delayed in the South American nation in recent years as a result of social conflicts and red tape.

Peru is the world’s No.2 copper producer and mining accounts for about 60% of its export earnings.