Chilean workers at Barrick's Pascua-Lama to vote on strike

Mon Oct 28, 2013 4:26pm EDT
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SANTIAGO Oct 28 (Reuters) - Workers at Barrick Gold Corp's suspended Pascua-Lama gold mine will vote by Wednesday on whether to strike, which they say could delay construction of a water management system crucial for the project to be re-activated, the union said on Monday.

Both Chile's Supreme Court and environmental regulator SMA have halted the controversial project, which straddles the Chilean and Argentine border, until new infrastructure is built to avoid water pollution.

The roughly 300-worker strong union currently building the infrastructure is mulling a strike after rejecting the Toronto-based miner's contract proposal on the grounds that its benefits were insufficient. They say Barrick has treated them unfairly and denounce a recent wave of lay-offs.

"Conversations with Barrick have stopped," Alexis Spencer, the president of the union, said. The last round of voting on the potential labor action will wrap up on Wednesday night, he added.

Both Barrick and the SMA regulator declined to comment.

Chilean law states that companies can, under certain circumstances, hire replacement workers to fill the gap left by strikers.

Last May, Chile's regulator told Reuters that it would be one to two years at the earliest before Pascua-Lama would be reactivated, given the time it will take to build the water management system. 

Barrick has stopped construction on the roughly $8.5 billion mine and submitted a plan for water management infrastructure to the SMA. The miner said in June that Pascua-Lama, on which it has already spent around $5.4 billion, had been delayed until mid-2016.