Chile copper mine protest in 2nd day, output OK

RANCAGUA, Chile, May 26 (Reuters) – Thousands of contract
workers at El Teniente mine, Chile’s No. 4 copper operation,
downed tools for a second day on Thursday in a peaceful wage
protest that is not hurting output but has stoked fears of
violence.

The action is drawing comparisons to a strike by
contractors in 2008 that turned violent and forced state giant
Codelco to close El Teniente, the world’s top underground mine,
as well as two other divisions and sparked a rally in world
copper prices.

About half of the 4,000-strong first shift of contractors
failed to show up on Thursday, a Codelco [CODEL.UL] spokeswoman
said.

Around 2,000 contract workers gathered in a square in the
city of Rancagua, around 50 miles (80 km) south of the capital
Santiago.

“We are the poor relations of Codelco,” said Claudio Gomez,
37, has worked for 7 years as a contractor at El Teniente
reinforcing cave walls and took part in the 2008 protests.

He said Codelco was not respecting contracts to improve
wages and benefits, saying staff worker wages dwarfed his own.

“This injustice has got to stop,” he added, as fellow
workers joined the throng in the square carrying red, white and
blue Chilean flags and placards that read “Strike now”.

Worker leaders were stopping buses carrying contractors to
the mine and asking them to join the demonstration, a Reuters
witness said.

Output at the 404,000-tonnes-per-year mine remained normal,
however, as most contractors work in non-production operations
such as machinery maintenance.

“We are looking for a quick resolution, but Codelco refuses
to sit down and talk to us,” Luis Nunez, a leader of the
protest, told Reuters. “We don’t know for how long this protest
will remain peaceful.”

Protesters have threatened to block roads to the mine.

Copper prices CMCU3 in London retreated to $9,020 per
tonne on Thursday after surging the previous day on world
supply concerns. Expectations of a deep supply deficit this
year helped copper prices hit record highs in February.

NO VIOLENCE

El Teniente, Codelco’s No. 2 mine that produces about 2.5
percent of the world’s mined copper, employs some 11,000
contract workers and 4,000 staff employees.

A leader of a group of service companies that employs about
2,000 contractors said they were looking for ways to end the
standoff. Codelco has said it will not negotiate directly with
the contractors.

“Obviously we want a quick resolution, but you never know
how this (protest) will evolve,” said German Gonzalez, head of
the group that represents 12 service companies. “We don’t know
their demands yet.”

More than 5,000 contractors marched peacefully in Rancagua
on Wednesday to demand Codelco give them bonuses of $4,700
each, full overtime pay and other benefits.

Temporary workers earn less than their staff colleagues, a
disparity that has prompted a wave of protests and walkouts at
Codelco and private mines in the world’s top producer of the
metal used in power and construction.

A year ago, a protest by subcontractors forced the world’s
No. 3 mine, Chile’s Collahuasi, briefly to halt operations.
http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/05/26/chile-copper-protest-idUSN2624170420110526

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