Codelco unions ready strike after troubled Chile smelter shuttered

The Ventanas smelter and refinery. (Image courtesy of Codelco).

Workers at Chilean state-owned miner Codelco, the world’s largest copper producer, said on Saturday they will start preparations for a national strike after the firm announced the closure of the troubled Ventanas smelter.

Unions had threatened to strike for the past week if the Codelco board did not invest to upgrade the facility after an environmental incident sickened dozens of people. On Friday the company instead chose to shut it down. 

The Federation of Copper Workers (FTC), which groups Codelco’s unions, said it regretted that the firm had “assumed exclusive responsibility for the environmental episodes in the Puchuncaví and Quintero area” in an industrial coastal region.

“According to the agreement adopted with the support of our union bases, we will begin to prepare from this minute the national strike in all Codelco divisions,” the FTC said in a statement, without giving more details.

“Our action will continue as long as the government and the Codelco Board of Directors insist on the closure of Ventanas and do not green-light the resources to allow the Codelco smelters to continue as competitive and sustainable units.”

Codelco stopped work at the Ventanas smelter and refinery earlier in June to carry out maintenance after authorities declared an environmental emergency in the region. 

The closure will require the modification of a law that obliges Codelco to smelt minerals from the also state-owned Enami, coming from small and medium-sized mining, exclusively in Ventanas.

Environmental activists have long called Quintero and its surroundings an environmental “sacrifice zone” due to successive episodes of pollution that have caused public health emergencies. The town is saturated with industries that also include the state oil company ENAP and chemical plants.

(By Natalia Ramos; Editing by Daniel Wallis)


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