October 24, 2019 / 6:38 PM / a month ago

Chile's copper mines feel some heat from country-wide protests

SANTIAGO (Reuters) - Copper mining companies in Chile, the world’s top producer of the red metal, said nationwide riots had mostly spared production but continued to impact operations as problems persisted with port facilities, public transportation and supply chains.

At least 16 people have died in protests that started over a hike in public transport costs, prompting a weekend of riots, and looting and a declaration of a state of emergency by President Sebastian Pinera.

Most of Chile’s private miners, including BHP Group Ltd, Anglo American Plc and Teck Resources Ltd, reported minimal impacts to their operations on Thursday.

The Mining Federation (FMC), a trade union that represents workers at many of the country’s private mines, said his group had called for a walk-off Thursday. Federation president Gustavo Tapia told Reuters that 80% of its members had agreed to partake in the strike.

Union leaders said workers had walked off the job at BHP’s Spence, shutting down the mine. BHP did not immediately respond to Reuters requests for comment.

Anglo American said its flagship Los Bronces mine, just outside Santiago, had been forced to “adjust operations” given the unrest and disruptions to the country´s transport networks, but said the mine continued to operate normally.

Chile’s Codelco, the world’s top copper miner, had resumed normal operations Thursday after an umbrella group representing all its unions struck a deal with government officials to end a day-long walk-off on Wednesday.

Unionized workers at Codelco’s Chuquicamata nonetheless said in a statement that they would continue to support the protests.

“It’s our decision as a union to make clear that we will continue to be on the side of the people and workers,” the mine’s union #3 said in a statement.

Copper producer Antofagasta Plc said on Wednesday protests in Chile could cut its production by about 5,000 tonnes, equivalent to less than 3% of third quarter output, due to delays in supplies and travel disruptions for workers.

Teck told Reuters on Wednesday in a statement that “there had been no material impact to Teck´s operations in Chile due to recent protests.”

Reporting by Fabian Cambero; Writing by Dave Sherwood; Editing by Alistair Bell

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