BHP suspends work at Chile’s largest copper mine

SANTIAGO – BHP Billiton has decided to suspend work indefinitely at projects linked to its Escondida mine in Chile in a result of the “permanent blockades” that have prevented the subcontractors from going back to work.

Chile’s Escondida mine, the largest copper mine in the world, announced Wednesday the indefinite suspension of the two major projects where 2,500 workers have been on strike for 42 days.

In a statement, Escondida, which runs the mine as part of the Anglo-Australian mining giant BHP Billiton, said the construction of the second desalination plant in the port of Coloso and the extension of the Concentrating Plant Los Colorados have been suspended.

The announcement comes only a day after the company failed to reach an agreement with representatives of the labor union after over six hours of negotiations.

Before the meeting, Escondida’s President Marcelo Castillo offered a bonus of US$17,000 for the 2,500 workers in a bid to put an end to the conflict; whereas, the union has asked for a 7 percent salary increase and a US$39,000 bonus.

For more than a month, the miners, demanding improved labor rights, have camped out at the site over 10,800 feet above sea level, in the heart of the Atacama Desert. They are also fighting for better working conditions and benefits.

Workers say the company is proposing a new agreement that cuts wages and benefits by 14.5 percent and implements discriminatory clauses in new contracts.

Concerns about world supplies have sent copper prices soaring, as Indonesia’s Grasberg, the world’s second-largest copper mine, has an export ban, and Peru’s large Las Bambas mine also faces protests.

Escondida produced 1.15 million tons of copper in 2015, or 6 percent of global output for the year. In Chile, copper makes up more than half of all exports.