Union mulls action after 700 workers fired at Freeport mine in Chile

lunes 31 de agosto de 2015 14:02 GYT

SANTIAGO Aug 31 (Reuters) - A Chilean union that represents copper mine workers on Monday rejected a move to drastically cut staff at the El Abra mine owned by Freeport-McMoRan and was considering action after 700 workers had their jobs terminated at the weekend.

Last week, Arizona-based Freeport, which owns a 51 percent stake in the mine in northern Chile, became one of the first big global miners to announce it was slashing production in the wake of a slumping copper price.

That would include reducing mining rates at El Abra by about 50 percent to reduce and defer costs and extend the mine's life, the company said.

Freeport could not immediately be reached for comment.

Gustavo Tapia, head of the Chile Mining Federation union, dismissed the fall in the copper price as a "cyclical issue" and said multinational companies had sufficient profits to ride it out.

"In the coming hours we will decide the measures we will adopt as an organization," he said in a statement on Monday.

Over the weekend the company began to send letters announcing around 700 dismissals and refusing any negotiation, said Juana Mejias, who heads the mine's local union.

"The situation is complex and a true 'massacre' that they have carried out by dismissing 50 percent of the workforce," she said.

El Abra produced around 166,000 tonnes of refined copper last year out of Chile's total 5.7 million, according to figures from state copper commission Cochilco. That placed it just outside the top 10 biggest mines in Chile, which produces around a third of the world's copper.

Any labor action would be a fresh headache for state-run Codelco, which owns the remaining 49 percent stake in El Abra. Codelco has just resolved a three-week dispute with contractor workers across its operations, which cost some 17,000 tonnes in lost output.

(Reporting by Rosalba O'Brien in Santiago, additional reporting by Nicole Mordant in Vancouver; Editing by Richard Chang)