(Recasts with CTC union vowing to intensify strike, adds comments from a second miners’ union)
By Fabian Cambero and Gram Slattery
SANTIAGO, July 24 (Reuters) - A Chilean mining contract worker was shot dead by police on Friday during a protest against state-owned copper company Codelco, prompting union leaders to say a four-day strike would intensify.
Contract workers with the Confederation of Copper Workers, or CTC, have blocked roads at Codelco projects around the country demanding the right to negotiate a benefits package similar to that offered to direct Codelco employees.
The CTC did not elaborate on how it would escalate the labor dispute, which has already forced the suspension of operations at Codelco’s Salvador mine. Last year the mine produced 54,000 tonnes, or just under 1 percent of the company’s total copper output.
“The conflict obviously will keep going and, in fact, it will intensify. We’re not going to let the death of our colleague be in vain,” CTC President Manuel Ahumada said by telephone.
A union representing Codelco’s direct employees called on the copper company to draw up a proposal to improve the conditions of contract miners, but stopped short of calling on its members to join the strike.
The CTC said contractor Nelson Quichillao had been shot while protesting near Codelco’s Salvador mine in northern Chile.
Interior Minister Jorge Burgos called the shooting a “lamentable situation” which he said occurred as police tried to clear a road. Prosecutors are investigating.
“The circumstances that led to guns being used need to be investigated,” he said.
The national police force said that protesters violently charged officers, and that shots were fired to “stop their advance.”
The CTC said police arrived at the protest “with the clear intention of repressing, neutralizing and dispersing a legitimate demonstration, in which none of the striking workers were armed.”
Codelco reported that four other mines targeted by striking workers continued normal operations.
On Thursday the company said the halt at Salvador was costing it about $500,000 daily and that equipment had been damaged by striking workers.
Codelco said this week that increasing benefits for contract workers was “not compatible” with current market conditions. The price of copper is at multiyear lows, dragged down by worries over demand in key buyer China.
The mining company saw profit decline by 22 percent in 2014 mainly due to a fall in copper prices. However, the Chilean government has been injecting billions of dollars into the company as part of an ambitious investment plan to revamp older mines and build new ones. (Writing by Hugh Bronstein and Richard Lough; Editing by Marguerita Choy and Matthew Lewis)