Strike At The World’s Largest Copper Mine Approaches Critical Moment

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Striking miners at the world’s largest copper mine face a critical juncture at the end of this week, when management is legally permitted to offer striking workers a deal to convince them to return to work.

Miners at the Minera Escondida copper mine in northern Chile have been on strike ever since Feb. 9, when the miners’ union announced the walkout. The ongoing dispute stems from conflict between workers demanding wage increases and profit-sharing and companies looking to cut costs by laying off workers and reducing benefits, due to the relatively low price of copper and other commodities.

Chilean law allows mining companies to make offers to striking workers 30 days into a labor stoppage. March 10 marks the 30th day, and union officials are concerned that a deal from BHP Billiton, the company with controlling interest of the mine, will tempt some of the workers into going back to work.

“Everything will change on day 30,” Carlos Allendes, a union spokesman, told Bloomberg Friday. “The company is probably betting that some workers will go back to the mine, but we feel confident that many won’t accept worse benefits than we have now,” he said.

The ongoing dispute has been the longest strike to hit a Chilean mine since a 25 day strike a the same mine in 2006. Analysts predict that a prolonged strike could have a devastating impact on the country’s annual output.

“With every passing day Escondida remains inactive, Chile loses 3,470 tons of copper output,” Chile’s Mining Minister Aurora Williams said, according to local newspaper La Tercera.

The ongoing strike has already had a significant impact on the Chilean economy, dropping its Gross Domestic Product a whole percentage point for February, 2017.

Chile is home to nearly one-third of the world’s copper and copper makes up 52 percent of the nation’s exports according to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

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Ted Goodman