Unions at Chile’s Codelco, the world’s largest copper producer, said on Wednesday that nearly 3,000 workers had been infected with the coronavirus, prompting renewed calls for more safety measures at the company’s sprawling operations.
Patricio Elgueta, president of the Federation of Copper Workers (FTC), an umbrella group for the company’s unions, told Reuters it had tallied 2,843 coronavirus infections among workers as of July 5.
“The company does not give the database to the workers, so we have to rebuild it every day in order to see how (infections) are progressing,” he said.
Codelco did not immediately reply to requests for comment on the figure.
Some unions and social groups have called on Codelco and other miners to halt operations around the mining hub of Calama, a desert city surrounded by some of Chile’s largest copper deposits.
State-run Codelco, which turns over all its profits to government coffers, has largely maintained mine output despite shutting down its Chuquicamata smelter and slashing on-site staff by as much as 40%.
Elgueta said calls for more safeguards will continue until the company prioritizes health and safety over production.
“They make it seem as though we want to shut down mining, but we only want to protect the lives and health of workers,” Elgueta said.
The coronavirus outbreak has exploded across much of Chile’s mine-rich northern desert. The South American nation has recorded more than 300,000 cases and upward of 6,500 coronavirus-related deaths.
Mining Minister Baldo Prokurica has pleaded with mining companies to protect the health of workers while maintaining output, a balance that had become increasingly difficult as infections spike in the mine-rich nation.
(By Fabian Cambero and Dave Sherwood; Editing by Bill Berkrot)