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  • The Chuquicamata copper mine is 100 years old and belongs to the world's largest copper mining company.

    The Chuquicamata copper mine is 100 years old and belongs to the world's largest copper mining company. | Photo: Reuters

Published 14 December 2018
Opinion

Police busted a workers' roadblock near one of Codelco's copper mines in northern Chile. Workers were protesting company plans to redesign the mine.

The N° 1 Chuquicamata Union said 15 union officials were arrested Thursday as Chile's riot police sought to end protests at the Chuquicamata copper mine in northern Chile. Since midday Wednesday, workers staged roadblocks outside of the mine operated by Chilean state copper company, Codelco.

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Workers at Chuquicamata, which produced 331,000 tons of copper in 2017, have protested for months over plans to transform the 100-year-old open pit into an underground mine. The redesign is a key feature of the company's US$39 billion 10-year plan to update its aging and dwindling deposits.

Representatives from four unions said the company failed to properly include mine workers in the mine's redesign and cited ongoing issues with the company’s healthcare provisions.

"It’s estimated that about 1,700 employees will lose their jobs as a result of the mine becoming an underground operation only and Codelco is not offering any type of health benefits as part of the retirement plan for most of those workers," they said in a statement.

“We’re conscious of the fact that the redesign is a necessity for Chuquicamata, but we also know that the process should be inclusive… of workers and that has not been respected.”

A spokesperson for Codelco, the world's largest copper producer, said Thursday that its 100-year-old Chuquicamata mine was operating normally after workers' protests.

"We are operating normal, shifts entered without problems," a representative of the company told Reuters.

However, union leaders have threatened to continue their protests until they receive responses from management.

“We will continue to struggle with more force than ever, to end once and for all the series of violations that are affecting the workers and their families,” board members of four unions said in a joint statement.

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