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Operations resume at one Chile port, others join strike
The northern Chilean port of Angamos resumed operations on Wednesday after striking workers returned to their jobs, but unions at some southern ports went on strike to protest what they called police repression, according to a port operator and union.
Spiraling port stoppages, which started more than two weeks ago when collective bargaining broke down at Angamos in part over temporary workers’ rights, could further stall copper exports from Chile, the world’s top producer of the metal.
Miners, including state producer Codelco and Chilean miner Antofagasta Minerals, have been affected.
Much of Chile’s copper, which accounts for roughly a third of the world’s supply, leaves from its ports on the Pacific Ocean, often destined for consumption in top customer China.
“Port strikes in Chile come up every so often, but they would probably take a few more weeks before it becomes a significant issue,” said analyst Patrick Jones at Nomura.
“Spot cathode premia in Asia could start to tick up if enduser stocks become particularly tight given exchange stocks are already low,” he added.
A government spokesperson said strikes were affecting nine ports. The exact status of operations at Chilean ports remained unclear, and unions at Angamos and the central San Antonio port did not respond to calls.
However, according to lists compiled by local media and the southern Bio-Bio region port union, 13 ports - Angamos, San Antonio, Iquique, Antofagasta, Mejillones Chanaral, Huasco, Coronel, Schwager, San Vicente, Muelle CAP, Talcahuano and Lirquen - were on strike.
The stoppages have sliced $130 million off Codelco’s December income, the company said on Tuesday.
Chilean miner Antofagasta Minerals said the stoppages will have an effect on the timing of its exports.
“The strike has now spread to Antofagasta and Mejillones, which means that we will not be able to export our cathodes, which make up some 20 percent of our total production,” an Antofagasta spokesman said.
“However, at this stage, we do not expect the strike to last long and as cathodes do not deteriorate with time and can be stockpiled easily, the impact is just a delay in exports, but not an overall reduction (on a quarterly/ annual basis).”
Glencore Xstrata Plc said it has not been affected by the stoppages. Global miners Anglo American and BHP Billiton declined to comment. Requests for comment from the mining ministry went unanswered.
STRIKE SPREADS SOUTH
Workers at Angamos went on strike more than two weeks ago to demand that temporary workers be included in collective bargaining. The union says these workers are among the most vulnerable and need stronger protection.
Other port workers then walked off the job in solidarity.
The government deemed the labor action illegal and called for a swift solution to the stoppages.
Around 110 workers at Angamos returned to work on Wednesday morning and port operations should return to normal in the next few days, port operator Ultraport said in a statement. Codelco is the main miner to use Angamos.
Ultraport said there were no clashes with police.
Some port unions said police forces had “repressed” workers and harmed chances of negotiation at Angamos. The southern Bio-Bio region’s port workers union said it was joining the strike in solidarity.
The clash underscores tensions in commodities-dependent Chile. Many in the economically unequal country feel they have not benefited from a massive mining bonanza.
The snowballing strike movement is reminiscent of the extended port stoppages that slammed Chile’s economy last year.
The strikes also originated in Angamos, where workers walked off the job to seek a 30-minute lunch break and other benefits. The dispute then escalated into a crisis for the Chilean economy.
FRUIT EXPORTS SQUEEZED
Farmers and exporters are fretting about the stoppage at San Antonio, where workers launched a strike to seek retroactive lunch subsidies they say they are owed.
Commodites-dependent Chile is also a big exporter of fruits, which are chiefly grown in the fertile central region and risk going bad if they are stuck in ports for too long.
Chile would lose around $80 million dollars if no fruit is shipped out of San Antonio this month, Agriculture Minister Luis Mayol said on Wednesday.
The stoppage is hitting smack in the middle of the Southern Hemisphere summer, when Chile typically increases its exports of grapes, apples and avocados abroad.
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