BHP uses strike breakers to get Escondida rolling

BHP uses strike breakers to get Escondida rolling

Monday, August 28th 2006

TENSIONS between BHP Billiton and striking unionists at the giant Escondida copper mine in Chile’s high-altitude Atacama desert have escalated following the hiring of strike breakers.

The mine, which last year accounted for 8.5 per cent of world output, is operating at half capacity, spokesman Mauro Valdes said. The copper-cathode plant, which converts the metal to a pure form for shipment, is running at 15 per cent, up from 10 per cent, Mr Valdes said.

“The number of replacements is going to increase,” he said from Santiago. The move could attract the attention of international labour organisations.

BHP, the world’s biggest mining company, has no plans to resume negotiations with the Escondida union after 98 per cent of workers rejected the most recent contract offer on August 21.

The union’s 2052 striking members are seeking a bigger share of mining profits after prices for copper surged to a record this year.

“This doesn’t worry me in the least,” union president Luis Troncoso said in a phone interview from Antofagasta, 1200 kilometres north of Santiago. “Fifty workers is nothing. They’re going to need a lot more to be able to do the work that our members do and get production where they need it.”

Copper for delivery in December rose US1.25c, or 0.4 per cent, to $US3.4315 a pound on the Comex division of the New York Mercantile Exchange.

Prices have quintupled in the past four years.

BHP closed down 11c at $27.40 in Sydney and up 11p at £10 in London.

Copyright © 2006. The Sydney Morning Herald.

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