Most Chilean mines disrupted as Codelco workers join in country-wide strike

Piñera offered concessions after a fifth day of protests marked by largely peaceful demonstrations in city squares flanked by armed soldiers and riot police. (Image courtesy of Chile’s Truth | YouTube.)

Unionized workers at Chile’s Codelco, the world’s largest copper miner, joined Wednesday thousands engaged in strike actions nation-wide, which have quickly degenerated into widespread violence, leaving at least 15 dead, over 1,600 in detention and seen six major cities under a state of emergency.

The Copper Workers Federation (FTC), representing those in the industry beyond the companies they work for, immediately followed suit. They also asked members not to board buses at the end of their night shifts, which is now happening at curfew.

By the end of the day, Codelco said most of its mines remained unaffected as mining unions struck a deal with government officials to end the planned day-long walk-off . The FTC, however, announced a members meeting for the end of the week to analyze the situation again and consider future actions.

Protests are entering a new phase as Chile’s powerful copper-mining unions are encouraging members to down tools and join nation-wide demonstrations

The 48-hour stoppage is going ahead despite Chile’s President, Sebastian Piñera, announced late some concessions on Tuesday evening. They include a guaranteed minimum wage of about $3.5 an hour, a tax increase for those earning over $11,000 a month, and lifting basic pensions by 20%.

Current and upcoming walkouts risk hindering copper supplies from the world’s No. 1 producer, with ports already being impacted by mounting protests. Exports of the red metal account for about 60% of Chile’s earnings.

Perhaps an even bigger issue could be unions putting pressure on the government to increase royalties on copper concentrate exports to fund public projects, BMO Metals analyst, Colin Hamilton, warns. “This would further dissuade investment in Chilean mine developments, in a sector where copper output has essentially stagnated since 2004,” he says.

Antofagasta plc (LON:ANTO), which has four mines in Chile and employs about 19,000 people, said Wednesday it expected disruptions in its supply chain and production to dent output by about 5,000 tonnes.

Delivering results for the three months to September, the miner kept its 2019 production guidance unchanged for now at 750-790,000 tonnes of copper. It cautioned, however, that 2020 production would be between 725-755,000 tonnes of copper due mostly to grades declining at its Centinela mine.

On Tuesday, workers at Escondida, the world’s largest copper mine, partially paralyzed work in support of the demonstrations.

Latin Spring?

Chile is the fifth South American state to be wracked by civil unrest seemingly triggered by increased government fees and charges, but ultimately fuelled by a gathering sense of economic inequality.

Earlier this month, Ecuador’s government was forced to retreat from the capital Quito after cuts to fuel subsidies, since then scrapped, immediately doubled prices and set off two weeks of violent protests. 

Peru’s capital, Lima, also saw widespread violence following President Martín Vizcarra’s decision to dissolve opposition-controlled congress, accusing lawmakers of trying to obstruct his efforts to end corruption.

In September, the streets of Argentina’s Buenos Aires were occupied by demonstrators complaining about food shortages, wages and the potential that the debt-crushed nation’s next IMF bailout would require even more drastic economic measures.

Tensions continue to rise on the streets of Bolivia’s administrative capital La Paz, with angry crowds accusing authorities of fraud in Sunday’s presidential election.

Protesters and the opposition claim electoral authorities manipulated the vote count in favour of President Evo Morales, the nation’s long-time socialist leader whose popularity has waned amid allegations of corruption and authoritarianism.