October 18, 2016 / 10:22 PM / 2 years ago

Codelco unions say mulling company-wide strike at Chile's copper mines

SANTIAGO/LA SERENA, Chile, Oct 18 (Reuters) - Unionized workers at Chile’s state-owned copper miner Codelco are mulling going on a company-wide strike, possibly by mid-November, if the government does not make progress on a number of demands, union leaders told Reuters on Tuesday.

Codelco, the world No. 1 copper producer, returns all its profits to the state and is funded by a mixture of capitalization and debt. The recent sharp downturn in the copper price has hit it hard when it needs to invest in new projects to keep output flowing, forcing it to scale back ambitious expansion plans.

The Copper Mining Federation (FTC), which serves as the umbrella organization for Codelco’s unions, will ask Chile’s government for permanent capitalization for the company and to overturn a law that requires that 10 percent of Codelco’s revenues support Chile’s defense budget.

“By (mid-November) we could be organizing a strike if we don’t have a response from the government,” said Marcelo Perez, director of the Caletones union at Codelco’s underground El Teniente mine.

Codelco declined to comment.

According to Perez, the unions have not decided how long the strike could last. However, Liliana Ugarte, who heads one of the unions at the open-pit Chuquicamata mine, said on Friday that if workers were to go on strike it would likely last 24 hours.

“We’re going to get in touch with the Senate, Finance Ministry and the President of the Republic and following all those conversations we will again meet no more than 15 days later and see if our demands have been met. If not we will call for a 24-hour national strike, as a warning,” said Ugarte.

Codelco produced 843,000 tonnes of copper in the first half of the year. (Reporting by Anthony Esposito; Editing by Bernard Orr)

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