(Adds detail from Codelco on occupation, background)
SANTIAGO, Aug 3 (Reuters) - Chile state copper producer Codelco said it had suspended operations at its Ministro Hales mine in northern Chile after the complex was seized by striking contract workers.
Contract workers affiliated with the Confederation of Copper Workers, or CTC, have been on strike across Codelco’s operations since July 21.
The contractors - cleaners, drivers, and other workers, including some miners - are demanding the right to negotiate a benefits package similar to the one offered to Codelco’s regular employees.
Last week, the protesters occupied Salvador, Codelco’s smallest mine, and forced the temporary closure of flagship Chuquicamata after blocking its access road.
“With the aim of physically protecting workers, the company has ordered the evacuation of mining installations as the first phase of the temporary closure of the (Ministro Hales) division, which as with Salvador is in the hands of the demonstrators,” Codelco said in a statement on Monday.
Ministro Hales, world no.1 copper producer’s Codelco’s newest mine, had production of around 141,000 tonnes of copper last year out of Chile’s total 5.7 million tonnes.
The company said it had requested police intervention and begun legal action to retake possession of the mine.
Earlier Monday the CTC rejected Codelco’s offer to mediate in talks between the contract workers and their employers, saying that “Codelco is trying to trick workers and public opinion,” and called on the government to establish direct discussions with the company.
Codelco has called the stoppage illegal and said it is the responsibility of the companies that employ the contractors to agree any change in benefits.
Both Codelco and the contractor companies say paying more in benefits is unrealistic at a time when the copper price is at multi-year lows.
Reporting by Rosalba O'Brien; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Alden Bentley