Chile's Escondida copper mine hit by surprise strike

Wed Aug 14, 2013 10:11pm EDT
 
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By Fabian Cambero

SANTIAGO (Reuters) - Workers began a surprise strike at the world's largest copper mine, Chile's Escondida, on Wednesday to demand improved working conditions and a bonus.

The work stoppage at Escondida, controlled by global miner BHP Billiton (BLT.L: Quote) (BHP.AX: Quote), kicked off at 8 am local time (1200 GMT / 8:00 a.m. EDT) and was initially planned to last 24 hours.

The copper market is likely to keep a close eye on the strike, particularly if there are any signs of it being prolonged, though with the global market still expected to be in surplus it has reacted calmly so far.

The mine's union stunned the copper market in 2011 by staging a two-week work stoppage, sending the mine's output tumbling.

But copper prices were near a nine-week high in early Asian trade on Thursday, supported by data showing a recovery in the euro zone economy and as optimism on growth in China boosted confidence about demand for industrial materials. <MET/L>

Workers at Escondida are due to convene at 8 am local time on Thursday to decide whether to pick up their tools again, a union leader told Reuters.

"We're going to wait until tomorrow to see if the company gives us any signals," union representative Marcelo Tapia said. "Once we meet we'll decide whether to extend the protest or take another type of action."

Tapia said earlier on Wednesday all operations had been halted at the mine which produced 1.1 million tons of copper last year, about 20 percent of the output from No. 1 copper producer Chile.   Continued...

 
A general view of the La Escondida copper mine near Antofagasta, about 1545 km (980 miles) north of Santiago city and 3100 meters (10,170 feet) above sea level, March 31, 2008. REUTERS/Ivan Alvarado