SANTIAGO – Contract workers with Chilean state copper giant Codelco on Tuesday staged new road blockages and demonstrations to demand that the world’s largest producer of the red metal negotiate with them directly, authorities said.
On the outskirts of the northern city of Calama, picketers blocked access to the Radomiro Romic, Ministro Hales and Chuquicamata mines.
The demonstrators set fire to a truck, blocked the railway, grabbed the keys away from bus drivers and parked those vehicles across the road, police said.
Codelco announced, however, that miners were transported by unblocked routes and that operations were proceeding normally.
The blockades lasted until the arrival of a unit of Carabineros – Chile’s militarized national police – to clear the road, while the workers marched to Codelmo’s headquarters in Calama.
In addition, according to sources with the CTC union representing more than 20,000 workers hired by private companies that provide assorted services to Codelco, there were demonstrations and clashes with police at the Andina mine in central Chile.
The protests, which began a week ago, died down afterwards at most of the mines, but they increased in intensity at El Salvador, in the northern region of Atacama, where last Friday a worker died from a bullet fired by police.
That mine and the same-named town remain blockaded by the workers, who are demanding that Codelco negotiate a framework agreement to regulate labor conditions in the sector.
Codelco, which produces about 1.7 million tons of copper per year, argues that labor relations with contract workers must be handled by the private companies that hire them.
The mining firm also says that the accord would mean an annual expenditure of $120 million and that acceding to the additional demands that have been made would raise the figure to more than $1 billion, which it considers to be unfeasible, particularly given the drop in the price of copper so far this year.
CTC president Manuel Ahumadaon on Tuesday accused Codelco of having rejected an offer of dialogue that – he said – could have prevented the conflict.
“Codelco has rejected dialogue, which to date has resulted in losses for the whole country, brutal repression against the workers and even the murder of one of our comrades,” he told Cooperativa radio.