Coronavirus in Chile ECONOMY

Codelco Miners Demand Action Over Health Concerns

Miners at Codelco assets already threatened a walkout over health concerns. Now, more workers are demanding action as they face a rapid rise in infections at mines. And to increase pressure, unions push for investigations into miners’ working and health conditions. 

Over the weekend, mining unions demanded a re-examination of the “alarming,” spike in Covid-19 cases at sites operated by state miner Codelco. By June 14, for example, 115 workers at Chuquicamata, the world’s largest open pit copper mine, have tested positive for Covid-19 while almost 200 workers are in preventative quarantine and await their test results.

Reuters cited government mining representative Alex Acuña as saying that “[a]ll the protocols are being applied accordingly.” And Patricio Tapia, the head of the union at global top copper producing Escondida mine, said 600 workers remain at home because of their potential underlying conditions. 

In a statement, the union representatives question the effectiveness of the protection measures, however. “The increase in cases is alarming and demonstrates that the preventive measures implemented with health and safety protocols aimed at self-care are not working and make it evident that contrary to what the union believed, security and isolation measures have not immunized workers from contagion.” 

Meanwhile, Codelco is mulling to cut working hours at Chuquicamata to minimize workers’ exposure.

Tensions between miners and management have increased since workers threatened a walkout after a Chuquicamata miner died of Covid-19. Unlike other sectors, mining could retain its momentum during the pandemic. To keep it up, Codelco will have to implement more protection measures.

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