June 25, 2020 / 2:05 PM / 15 days ago

Workers demand investigation at Chile´s Codelco over coronavirus deaths

SANTIAGO, June 25 (Reuters) - Unionized mine workers in Chile late on Wednesday demanded an investigation into the death of a third miner from coronavirus at state-run Codelco, increasing pressure on the world´s largest copper producer as cases soar throughout the South American nation.

Codelco on Wednesday reported the death of one of its workers amid the fast-spreading pandemic, but in an internal memo said the miner had contracted the coronavirus outside of work.

Chile´s Federation of Copper Workers (FTC), a top mine union group, rejected the claim, demanding an investigation into the man´s death and calling Codelco´s management of the crisis “incompetent.”

“It is unacceptable that Codelco’s senior management tries to evade its legal responsibilities to protect ... the health and safety of its workers,” the federation said in the statement.

Codelco did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

“In this context, our union organization will not rule out ... bringing to justice those responsible for the breach of these preventive measures,” the federation said.

Codelco, which turns all its profits over to the state, has maintained output with a skeleton crew since the pandemic struck in March. But unions have demanded beefed-up safety measures in recent weeks as cases have exploded throughout the northern mining region.

Chile´s government, whose coffers depend on copper exports, has been forced to walk a fine line between maintaining production and protecting workers. Unlike neighboring Peru, the world´s second largest producer, it has resisted shutting down its sprawling copper and lithium mines.

The country´s Geology and Mining Service, which oversees the industry, said on Wednesday it was meeting with the miners to discuss strengthening health protocols. The agency’s director, Alfonso Domeyko, said miners had stressed to him the importance of workers practicing “self-care” measures in their communities as well as at work. (Reporting by Natalia Ramos and Dave Sherwood; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

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