Just as labor tensions ease at BHP Billiton Ltd.’s giant Escondida mine, the copper industry has another iconic mine to worry about.
Relations between the world’s largest copper producer, Codelco, and unions in its Chuquicamata division have reached the lowest point in years as the mine transitions from open pit to an underground model that will use more automation and employ fewer workers.
The five unions representing more than 5,000 workers at Codelco’s oldest open pit are threatening to dial up protests. They say the Chilean state-owned company is transitioning to underground without a prior agreement with unions on retirement plans, contracts and other benefits.
“We are not being listened to and the company is having quite an arrogant attitude,” Liliana Ugarte, president of Chuquicamata Union No. 2, said in an interview in Calama last week. “If things keep going this way, we are going toward a Codelco strike at a national level.”
Mining companies globally are looking to automation as a way of reducing costs and growing productivity. As a consequence, mines will be needing fewer but more specialized workers.
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