SANTIAGO, July 26 (Reuters) - Contract workers demanding better working conditions in Chile have taken control of Codelco’s small Salvador mine, the state-owned copper miner said, raising the stakes in a strike now in its sixth day.
The labor dispute had already forced the suspension of operations at Salvador, which last year produced just under 1 percent of the company’s total 54,000 tonne output, but its seizure by workers marks an escalation in the dispute.
“Facilities at Salvador are in the hands of the protesters, who are people from outside the company and who do not have the technical skills to manage risks on a mine site,” Codelco said in a statement issued late on Saturday.
Contract workers with the Confederation of Copper Workers, or CTC, are demanding the right to negotiate a benefits package similar to that offered to direct Codelco employees.
Police shot dead one protester outside the Salvador mine on Friday, drawing a rallying call from CTC’s leader for workers to intensify their strike action.
Codelco said the rest of its mines were operating normally, but it added that equipment had been sabotaged and some workers who had not joined the strike had received death threats.
Codelco said last week that current market conditions made raising benefits for contract workers difficult. The price of copper is at multiyear lows, dragged down by worries over demand in key buyer China. (Reporting by Fabian Cambero; writing by Richard Lough, editing by David Evans)