Workers at Chile's state-owned Codelco returned to the job today after a 24-hour strike, threatening more labor unrest if they are not included in the restructuring of the world's top copper miner.
Union leaders said thousands of workers trickled back to their mines in Chile's desert north and mountainous south-central region after staging a walkout to demand more say in the restructuring of the state copper giant.
"This was a successful stoppage and now it is clear how much we are worth," said Hernan Garrido, a union leader at El Teniente mine. "Now the (Codelco) administration must look at us differently because otherwise this is the beginning of more strikes."
Codelco, which estimated losses of about 4,900 tonnes of copper or $41 million due to the strike, said mines were returning to normal after the stoppage. Union leaders said they have been left out of an overhaul that they fear could lead to benefit cuts, huge layoffs and the sale of world-class deposits that are key to the state's finances.
Codelco executives and union leaders are expected to meet as soon as this week to discuss the reforms that include plans to overhaul the employees' health system and job cuts at the century-old Chuquicamata copper mine.
Experts say Codelco's Chief Executive Diego Hernandez could offer union workers some job stability deals to prevent more labor strife.The government of President Sebastian Pinera, which has denied any plans to privatize Codelco, has offered to mediate between both sides to ease labor tensions that could harm the linchpin sector.
Pinera, a center-right billionaire, saw his approval rating fall to 31 percent in a poll last week while he grappled with the student protests, the looming Codelco strike and a customer credit scandal at retailer La Polar.
The strike was the latest labor dispute to hit Codelco in less than two months. A violent protests by contractors at Codelco's No. 2 operation El Teniente forced the company to slash output for several days in June. Subcontract workers at other Codelco mines have also threatened with strikes in the wake of the 24-hour stoppage. Copper prices rebounded on Tuesday after the dollar pared gains on data showing the U.S. trade gap widened more than expected in May.
Hernandez said he is committed with the restructuring to revert years of lackluster results that some critics say is part due to rising labor costs.