SANTIAGO – Workers at Chuquicamata, one of the largest mines operated by Chile’s Corporacion del Cobre (Codelco), rejected the latest offer from management and voted to authorize a strike, union officials said on Thursday.
Representatives of the three unions at Chuquicamata and officials of the state-owned mining company said a strike can still be averted through mediation and further negotiations.
Some 86 percent of members rejected the latest proposal made on May 24 by Codelco, which offered 9.85 million pesos ($14,500) in compensation per worker, union leaders said.
Codelco made its latest proposal after the unions rejected a larger offer of 13.7 million pesos ($19,680) per worker on a 36-month contract.
The mining company’s new proposal calls for a 27-month collective bargaining agreement.
Of the 2,929 members voting, 2,755 cast ballots in favor of authorizing a strike, while just 169 voted to accept Codelco’s latest offer, union officials said.
With a strike now authorized, the two sides can turn to mediation by the Chilean Labor Board to try to reach a deal.
Mediation takes place in five-day rounds, with additional five-day extensions, if the parties agree.
Codelco CEO Nelson Pizarro said there might still be some kind of “interruption” in production at the mine, but a lesser one since the two sides could still turn to mediation or hold additional negotiations.
“We believe that we have an excellent opportunity to reach an agreement,” Pizarro said during the presentation of the company’s first-quarter earnings release.
Finance Minister Felipe Larrain said he was concerned about the situation and called on the two sides to avoid a strike.
“We always hope that strikes can be avoided and until the last minute, the last effort by both sides, there can be flexibility to avoid interrupting the negotiations,” Larrain said.
Labor Minister Nicolas Monckeberg, for his part, said that while the government respected the right to strike, “we all know it’s a last resort and all other options for dialogue must be exhausted before going on strike.”
The unions said in a statement that members’ vote to strike was a rejection of management’s latest offer and, “in addition, reflected the failure of a human resources and labor relations policy that is dominated daily by threats and all types of pressure on the personnel.”
Chuquicamata is in the process of being converted from an open pit mine to an underground mine at a cost of about $5.5 billion, making it one of Codelco’s main investment projects.
Codelco is undertaking several structural projects aimed at extending the operating lives of its main mines by about 50 years at a cost of $18 billion.