Workers at BHP Billiton Ltd.’s majority-owned Minera Escondida copper mine in Chile went on strike Thursday, a union official said, putting pressure on the country’s sluggish economy and copper prices over fears of shortages.
“People didn’t show up to work,” said Carlos Allendes, a spokesman for Escondida’s largest union, Union No.1. “The strike has begun.” The strike at Escondida, the world’s biggest copper mine, follows unsuccessful talks between the union and management for a new collective agreement.
Escondida, which accounts for about 5% of the metal’s global output, said late Wednesday it would halt operations during the strike to ensure safety. It said the local labor regulator gave it permission to allow 80 employees to continue working to perform critical functions, including maintenance.
BHP, which operates and owns 58% of Escondida, said last month that the mine was expected to turn out 1.1 million tons of copper during the 12-month period that ends on June 30. Rio Tinto PLC and Japan’s Mitsubishi Corp. have minority interest in Escondida.
The decision to walk off the job is raising concerns in Chile about the strike’s impact on the economy, which was already posting weak growth.
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