Chile key mine struggles for third day on protest

SANTIAGO, June 6 (Reuters) – Codelco’s El Teniente, Chile’s fourth biggest mine, was working at less than half of capacity on Monday as most staff workers stayed off the job for a third day to avoid violence by striking contractors, the company said.

Police patrols escorted buses carrying a small group of miners to the deposit on Sunday to work on a contigency plan that is allowing the 404,000 tonne-a-year mine to produce at 40 percent capacity.

Thousands of contractors or temporary workers downed tools on May 25 to demand higher wages and improved benefits. A collapse in wage talks led to violent protests last week, with contractors throwing rocks at buses carrying staff workers to El Teniente, the world’s largest underground copper operation.

Productions woes at El Teniente, which produces about 2.5 percent of the world’s mined copper, helped lift prices of the red metal used to build homes and such things as water pipes.

Three-month copper on the London Metal Exchange CMCU3 traded at $9,120 a tonne by 1130 GMT from a close of $9,099 on Friday.

Codelco, the world’s top copper producer, has said it will not negotiate with contractors and that is up to their employeers to secure an agreement to end the protest.

The protest draws comparisons to similar violent demonstrations by subcontrators in 2008 that forced Codelco to halt operations at El Teniente and two other divisions.

Contractors are ussually paid much less than their staff colleagues, a growing disparity that has triggered several violent protests in Chile, by far the biggest producer of copper in the world.

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