(Updates with details on union demands, context)
By Fabian Cambero
SANTIAGO, March 25 (Reuters) - Chile’s Codelco, the world’s largest copper miner, said on Wednesday it would temporarily suspend construction on some projects in a bid to halt the spread of coronavirus, as the company´s unions ratcheted up pressure for more safety measures.
In a statement Codelco said the 15-day suspension applied to remaining work being carried out to make Chuquicamata an underground mine, and projects at an early stage at Rajo Inca and Traspaso Andina.
“This measure has no impact on the production of the respective divisions - which maintain operational continuity with the greatest possible sanitary safeguards - but allows for a decrease in people circulating,” Codelco said.
The announcements follow an open letter from the Federation of Copper Workers, an umbrella group for Codelco´s unions, demanding the state miner consider a full, preventative quarantine, including halting labor at all mine operations.
The group warned it would take action on its own if the miner did not implement more drastic measures to protect workers immediately.
“We will not rule out a call to our workers ... to walk off the job in an effort to mitigate the impacts (of the outbreak),” the federation said in the statement.
Though many operations have been automated at Chile´s largest deposits, mines remain labor-intensive and workers at remote sites in the Andes mountains congregate for meals and transportation, complicating sanitary safeguards.
World top copper producer Chile on Wednesday surpassed 1,000 cases of the virus, among the highest tallies in Latin America.
The outbreak, together with plunging prices for copper, have put Codelco in a tough spot. The company is pushing a 10-year, $40 billion plan to boost output as falling ore grades have put a dent in production. (Reporting by Fabian Cambero; writing by Aislinn Laing and Dave Sherwood, Editing by Sandra Maler and Sonya Hepinstall)