Chile's copper mines feel some heat from nationwide protests
By Fabian Cambero
SANTIAGO, Oct 24 (Reuters) - Copper mining companies in Chile, the world's top producer of the red metal, said nationwide riots had mostly spared production but continuing protests had hobbled port facilities, public transportation and supply chains, making an impact on operations.
At least 16 people have died in protests that started over a hike in public transport costs, prompting a weekend of riots, looting and a declaration of a state of emergency by President Sebastian Pinera. Pinera and lawmakers were going forward with proposed social equality reforms that some critics have described as cosmetic.
Most of Chile's private miners, including BHP Group Ltd BHP.AX, Anglo American Plc AAL.L and Teck Resources Ltd TECKb.TO, reported minimal impacts to their operations on Thursday.
The Mining Federation (FMC), a trade union that represents workers at many private mines, said his group had called for a walk-off Thursday. Federation president Gustavo Tapia told Reuters that 80% of its members had agreed to partake in the strike.
Union leaders said workers had walked off the job at BHP's Spence, shutting down the mine. BHP did not immediately respond to Reuters requests for comment.
Lumina Copper's smaller Caserones mine in northern Chile was also operating with a reduced crew.
"The Caserones facility is working with minimal personnel ... with the goal of ensuring the security of its workers, contractors and facilities," he said.
Unionized workers at the sprawling Collahuasi copper mine in northern Chile, a joint-venture between Anglo American and Glencore GLEN.L, did not approve a walk-off, union president Felipe Roman told Reuters.
Anglo American AAL.L said its flagship Los Bronces mine, just outside Santiago, had been forced to "adjust operations" given the unrest and disruptions to the country´s transport networks, but said the mine continued to operate normally.
Fitch Solutions Macro Research said copper prices might get a short-term boost amid the continuing protests.
"It is too early to say whether this will have a longer term impact, given the limited impact and temporary nature of the strikes so far," the group said in a note.
Codelco had resumed normal operations Thursday after an umbrella group representing all its unions struck a deal with government officials to end a day-long walk-off on Wednesday.
Unionized workers at Codelco's Chuquicamata nonetheless said in a statement that they would continue to support the protests.
"It's our decision as a union to make clear that we will continue to be on the side of the people and workers," the mine's union #3 said in a statement.
Copper producer Antofagasta Plc ANTO.L said on Wednesday protests in Chile could cut its production by about 5,000 tonnes, equivalent to less than 3% of third quarter output, due to delays in supplies and travel disruptions for workers.
Teck told Reuters on Wednesday in a statement that "there had been no material impact to Teck´s operations in Chile due to recent protests."
Chile's inequality challenge: What went wrong and can it be fixed?
(Reporting by Fabian Cambero; Writing by Dave Sherwood Editing by Alistair Bell and Grant McCool)
((Aislinn.Laing@thomsonreuters.com; +56 223704250;))
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