Major Chilean Copper Mines Go On Strike

The two mines on strike account for 4% of world's copper production.

Workers at two mines owned by Chile's Codelco company, the world's biggest copper mining concern, went on strike on Jan. 4 demanding higher pay and better work benefits.

Miners at the Chuquicamata and Mina Sur mines, which together account for 4% of the world's copper production, are calling for a 7.5% pay hike, after copper prices hit a 14-month peak at more than $7,000 per ton.

Both mines belong to the state-owned Chilean group Codelco, the National Copper Corp. of Chile, which produces around 1.6 million tons of copper per year and employs around 5,600 workers.

About a third of the unionized miners failed to show up when their shifts began at 5 am. Codelco has been beset by strikes and other worker actions in recent years, which have forced concessions from the company.

Codelco could lose eight million dollars per day of strike action. It has proposed a 3.8% pay rise and a bonus.

The miners' demands for more concessions come as the price of copper, which fell significantly during the global economic crisis, has jumped in recent months, amid renewed demand from China, the world's largest copper consumer.

Copper prices have rocketed by more than 130% since the start of 2009, driven by signs of global economic recovery after the steep worldwide downturn.

Chile in 2008 had a copper output of some 5.3 million tons, and was estimated to have produced a similar amount in 2009, accounting for about one-third of global production.

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2010

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