Escondida mine conflict unresolved, regulators inspect site

Striking workers gather at Escondida entrance in March 2017. Archive image

A dispute between workers and Chile’s Escondida mine, the largest copper deposit in the world, remained unresolved on Tuesday as regulators reviewed the site following safety complaints, the union said.

Union workers approved a partial strike last week and threatened a complete work stoppage over safety concerns at the mine, but agreed to postpone action pending talks with the National Labor Directorate and mining regulator Sernageomin.

In a statement, the union said commissions from both government entities began inspections at the mine, adding that “if the company does not resolve the situations, activities will be stopped.”

The company that manages Escondida, controlled by BHP Group, said inspections are routine in the mining industry and that it was willing to cooperate with authorities.

The company said an area of the mine where there was a “displacement of material,” but the union referred to as a sinkhole, will remain closed with necessary measures following Sernageomin’s visit.

“The authority didn’t request the implementation of any other measures,” the statement said.

The company had requested mediation from the regional labor authority. According to the union, the request was dismissed and the firm has not attempted direct approaches with union leadership.

The mining company and the union have faced off before, including in 2017, when workers went on strike for more than 40 days in the middle of a contract negotiation.

(By Fabián Andrés Cambero and Alexander Villegas; Editing by Grant McCool and Bill Berkrot)

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