ANTOFAGASTA Feb 13 A strike that has shut down
operations at northern Chilean copper mine Escondida, the
world's biggest, entered its fifth day on Monday with few signs
of an imminent resolution.
Workers began a strike at the BHP Billiton
-run mine on Thursday to put pressure on the company
after contractual wage talks failed to end in agreement.
The union has said its 2,500 members are committed to action
and is threatening a two-month stoppage, leading BHP last week
to swiftly declare force majeure, an admission that it will not
be able to meet its contractual obligations.
In two months' time, a new Chilean labor law kicks in that
may strengthen the union's hand.
On Sunday, BHP said installations had been attacked by
Union spokesman Carlos Allendes on Monday called the
company's statement a "distraction." The union said late on
Sunday that it had acted within the law in its handling of the
strike and facilities, and that a peaceful march without
incident had taken place on Saturday.
"The situation is the same," said Allendes. "There has been
Concerns about supply constraints have led the copper price
to a 20-month high as Indonesia's Grasberg, the world's
No. 2 copper mine, deals with an export ban, and Peru's
important Las Bambas faces protests that have blocked roads.
That creates a dilemma for the government of Chile, where
copper makes up more than half all exports and whose income has
diminished in recent years as the metal's price has sunk.
A higher price will probably benefit the overall economy,
although a protracted conflict will do little to encourage
After 15 days of a strike, BHP may be able to bring in
replacement workers. After 30 days, individual workers will have
the option of accepting the company's offer.
Traders say it is difficult to see the path ahead.
"It remains to be seen how long the workers can maintain
their tough position and if the market benefits from the price
of copper and other metals to the extent that the cost of the
strike is economically not such a bad thing," said one trader.
Escondida produced just over 1 million tonnes of copper in
2016 out of Chile's total 5.5 million.
BHP has a 57.5 percent controlling interest in the mine,
with Rio Tinto and Japan's JECO also
(Reporting by Fabian Cambero; Writing by Rosalba O'Brien;
Editing by Lisa Von Ahn)