Operations at the northern Chilean port of Angamos resumed on Wednesday after access to docks was unblocked, but some southern ports went on strike to protest what they called police repression during the industrial action, according to a port operator and union.
Spiraling port stoppages, which initially started over two weeks ago when collective bargaining broke down at Angamos in part over temporary workers’ rights, could further stall copper exports from the world’s top red metal producer.
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 client 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.
It was not immediately clear how many ports were on strike, and unions at the Angamos and San Antonio ports did not respond to calls.
The ports of San Antonio, Iquique, Antofagasta, Mejillones Chanaral, Huasco, Coronel, Schwager, San Vicente, Muelle CAP, Talcahuano and Lirquen are on strike, according to lists compiled by local media and the southern Bio-Bio region port union.
The stoppages have sliced $130 million off Codelco’s December income, the company told Reuters 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.
Copper is not time-sensitive and material can be sent at a later date. Still, stoppages disrupt the metal market and can ruffle client-provider relationships.
STRIKE SPREADS SOUTH
Workers at Angamos went on strike more than two weeks ago to demand 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.
FRUIT EXPORTS SQUEEZED
Farmers and exporters are fretting about the stoppage at the central port of San Antonio, where workers launched a strike to seek retroactive lunch subsidies they say they are owed.
Export-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.