June 17, 2019 / 6:29 PM / a month ago

Chile's Chuquicamata copper mine operations halved amid strike: Codelco

SANTIAGO (Reuters) - Chile’s Codelco said on Monday that its Chuquicamata copper mine, one of the world´s largest, had maintained output at 50% of capacity as it faced its fourth full day of a union strike.

FILE PHOTO: The foundry is seen during operational hours at the Chuquicamata open pit copper mine, which is owned by Chile's state-run copper producer Codelco, April 1, 2011. REUTERS/Ivan Alvarado/File Photo

More than 3,000 unionized workers at the world’s top copper producer’s sprawling Chuquicamata copper mine walked off the job last week after failing to reach a labor deal earlier this week with Codelco.

Chile’s state-run miner said it has scrambled to put to work some 1,400 miners, most of whom pertain to unions which earlier struck contract deals with the company and had opted not joined the strike.

“For now we are maintaining [production] at 50%, but we are working towards 60%,” Codelco told Reuters.

Union representatives challenged that statement, saying Codelco was exaggerating its ability to produce amid the strike.

Liliana Ugarte, president of Union 2, one of three striking unions, said that Codelco had yet to approach the unions to reinitiate talks.

“On the contrary, Codelco is making things worse...by making statements that only serve to infuriate workers,” Ugarte said.

The mine produced 320,744 tonnes of copper in 2018.

Codelco, which last month reported an 18% year-on-year drop in its first-quarter copper output, is seeking to transform the century-old deposit at Chuquicamata into an underground mine as part of a 10-year, $39 billion overhaul of Codelco’s key operations.

The overhaul has meant job cuts in some areas of the mine, making relations tense with workers.

Copper production at Chile’s top mines dropped sharply in the first quarter of 2019, Chilean copper commission Cochilco said in May, amid a perfect storm of operational issues, heavy rains and falling ore grades at the largest deposits.

Reporting by Fabian Cambero; writing by Dave Sherwood; Editing by Marguerita Choy

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