SANTIAGO (Reuters) – Police fired rubber bullets and tear gas in clashes on Tuesday with miners striking at Chile’s giant Chuquicamata copper mine, as the workers tried to block access to a site operated by state-owned giant, Codelco.
A group of workers at the mine from unions 1, 2 and 3, which represent 80% of its workforce, was repelled by the police, while at least 12 people were arrested, one of the unions said.
The mine is now facing its fifth day of strike action.
“The repression is absolute and harsh,” said Hector Milla, president of union 3, adding the workers were part of a strike action that began on Friday when negotiations over a new collective labor contract failed.
Codelco, the world’s largest copper miner, said the protesters had prevented the entry of vehicles carrying workers not participating in the strike.
“This illegal forceful action, publicly promoted by some leaders of these organizations, is a sign of the lack of respect they have for their own comrades,” Codelco said in a statement, adding it would seek legal action against those responsible.
In a letter to the local securities regulator, the miner said it was not yet possible to quantify the impact of the strike, which would depend on whether protesters continued to block access and the length of the stand-off.
The two sides currently appear to be far apart on terms of an agreement that would put an end to the strike.
Chuquicamata, or “Chuqui,” one of Codelco’s key copper deposits, faces a challenge to maintain output as the open-pit mine undergoes a complex $5 billion-plus transformation into an underground shaft mine.
Codelco has said previously Chuqui had maintained output at 50% of its capacity and that it was seeking to reach even 60%. The unions, however, say sustaining that level of production with a third of the workers is not sustainable.
Reporting by Fabian Cambero; Writing by Adam Jourdan; Editing by Bernadette Baum and Alistair Bell