Coronavirus in Chile ECONOMY

Codelco Miners Threaten Walkout

As Chile’s economy struggles to recover from Covid-19, one of the most important companies, state-run Codelco, is seeing pressure from its workers to take protective measures to prevent the spread of the virus. If the demands from their mining union are not met, they threaten to halt work and leave the mining sites. These declarations came after the death of one of their colleagues. 

After the sharp rise in Covid-19 cases at Coldeco’s mining sites, and the announcement by the Federation of Copper Workers that one of their workers had passed away, miners at the Chuquicamata mine located in Northern Chile have filed complaints demanding protections and stating that if these measures are not met they will stage a walkout. At the Escondida mine, 98 of its 10,000 workers have already tested positive for the coronavirus. 

The primary demands of the workers include improved sanitary conditions to prevent the spread of Covid-19, while other workers wish to put themselves in isolation in order to prevent the spread of the virus. Chile’s mining minister also released a statement imploring Codelco to “to adopt all necessary measures to protect the life and health of workers.” 

Codelco remains the largest producer of copper in the world. More importantly for Chile, mining remains one of the only industries that seems unscathed by the novel coronavirus as the mines continue to meet their quotas despite various layoffs. In fact, the mining company only saw a one percent decrease in output since the beginning of the pandemic and has increased its April output by more than 11 percent since 2019.

This is fortunate since mining continues to be one of the cornerstones of the Chilean economy, controlling 36 percent of the world’s copper market. For this reason, the workers have a lot of power to potentially manipulate aspects of the economy. 

While Codelco still hasn’t made a statement concerning the potential strikes, union leader Lilian Ugarte urges the company to take actions, saying that workers’ demands are “a general warning, in case the administration does not take the measures,” and that “the lives of our people are more important than any production targets.”

In an interview with Reuters, however, Alex Acuña, the regional mining representative, claimed that “[a]ll the protocols are being applied accordingly”; and, according to another union head, Patricio Tapia, 600 workers were asked to remain at home due to their potential underlying conditions. 

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