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Strike At World's Largest Copper Mine

The world's largest copper mine in northern Chile was shut down Aug. 7 as workers went on strike demanding higher wages. Workers at the Escondida mine halted work at 8 am when the first shift of laborers refused to work. Laborers overnight turned off the engines of mineral processing equipment.

The nearly 2,000 workers at the mine are demanding a 13% pay raise and a $30,000 dollar, which they say reflects the fact that the price of copper has nearly quadrupled on the international market over the last three years. The workers turned down a last-minute company offer on Aug. 4 of a 3% pay raise and a $17,000 bonus per miner.

The mine, controlled by Anglo-Australian mining giant BHP Billiton, is responsible for 8% of the world's total copper output. Escondida produces an average of 125,000 tons of copper per year, nearly 20% of the total copper production of Chile, the world's largest copper producer. It represents nearly 2.5% of the country's gross national product.

Its main customers are Japan, Germany, Canada, China, Sweden, Brazil, South Korea and France.

The strike had been brewing for weeks, and the news did not surprise global markets. In London trading the price of copper rose to more than $8,000 per ton for the first time in three weeks.

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2006

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