22 de julio de 2015 / 15:31 / en 2 años

UPDATE 2-Codelco says Salvador copper mine suspended as strike continues

* Codelco contract workers’ strike goes into second day

* Chile state copper miner says small Salvador project suspended

* Codelco warns that stoppage could cost it $27 mln daily (Recasts with Salvador project suspended)

SANTIAGO, July 22 (Reuters) - Top copper miner Codelco said on Wednesday that one of its projects had been suspended but most of its operations were unaffected as striking contract workers blocked access to mines for the second straight day.

Contract workers affiliated with the Confederation of Copper Workers, or CTC, went on strike Tuesday to demand the right to negotiate a benefits package similar to that offered to direct employees.

The union, which represents contract cleaners, drivers, miners and other workers, blocked roads and set up barricades at Codelco projects across Chile.

The company’s Salvador division said on Wednesday that the strike, which it calls illegal, had forced it to completely suspend operations.

Salvador, located in the northern Atacama region, produced 54,000 tonnes of copper last year out of Chile’s total 5.75 million, according to figures from state copper commission Cochilco.

Late Tuesday Codelco said the stoppages could cost it more than $27 million daily. The company, which hands its profits back to the state, reported about $3 billion in pretax earnings for last year.

It also said that it was considering legal action following “serious and violent” acts on Tuesday that it said injured workers and damaged equipment and public infrastructure.

However, it said output had been largely unaffected.

“With the exception of the Salvador division, Codelco operations are functioning completely normally,” it said in a statement earlier Wednesday.

The strike comes at a difficult time for Chile’s mining companies, which are struggling with weak copper prices and water shortages.

At the same time, Codelco is undertaking an ambitious investment plan to revamp its aging mines and keep production flowing.

The last major round of contract negotiations and strikes in the global copper industry was in 2011, but a contentious process is expected at some mines this year as the falling copper price and cost-cutting programs strain labor relations.

Although Codelco said benefits for contract workers were the responsibility of the companies that employ them, it has a “framework agreement” with the contractors’ union.

The current agreement and its benefits cost about $120 million a year, said Codelco Chief Executive Officer Nelson Pizarro.

“An increase in these benefits and their associated costs is not compatible with the current conditions of the copper market, the economic reality of the country and project sustainability,” he said. (Reporting by Fabian Cambero, Writing by Rosalba O‘Brien, Editing by W Simon, Lisa Von Ahn and Alan Crosby)

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