Workers briefly delay operations at world’s largest underground copper mine |

Workers briefly delay operations at world’s largest underground copper mine

SANTIAGO, Chile – Contract workers for Chile’s state-owned copper corporation briefly delayed operations at the world’s largest underground copper mine Thursday, demanding bonuses as world prices for copper reach record levels.Officials at El Teniente mine, 55 miles southwest of Santiago, said production was not affected. The picketers merely blocked the road at the mine entrance, delaying the beginning of the morning shift by less than an hour.Police reported no incidents.The Codelco contract workers – employed by some 400 outside companies contracted by the corporation for services such as catering, transportation and quality control – have been threatening to strike to back their demands for a special bonus of 500,000 pesos ($970) due to the record price posted by copper in recent weeks.Copper prices have been soaring on worries that demand for the metal, especially from China’s booming economy, is rising fast than mining companies can supply it. Copper has a wide range of uses in electrical wiring, computers, plumbing, manufacturing and construction.Copper prices settled lower Thursday, despite market concerns about the Codelco conflict. The March futures contract for the metal settled down 235 points at $2.0455 per pound.The workers also want working conditions similar to those of Codelco’s 15,000 regular employees.No deadline has been set for a strike, which would include attempts to block access to the mines, union leaders have said.No protests were reported in other mines owned by Codelco in northern Chile, including Chuquicamata, the world’s largest open pit mine.The contract companies employ some 28,000 workers, but an eventual strike would not involve all of them, as many are not unionized, and Codelco officials don’t expect much of an impact on production if a strike does take place.Chile is the world’s largest copper exporter. Codelco’s output reached 1.8 million metric tons (2 tons) in 2004.Vail, Colorado

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