Violent Strike at BHP’s Copper Mine in Chile, force majeure Declared
A strike at BHP Billiton’s (NYSE:BHP) Escondida copper mine in Chile has turned ugly and police are investigating a fire at the mine that came just hours before 300 masked people stormed the site.
Monday, BHP confirmed that 14 people were injured after a fire broke out on Friday around 3:00a local time. Four workers were taken to nearby Antofagasta due to their injuries.
Patricio Vilaplana, Vice-president of Corporate Affairs at BHP’s Minera Escondida division, said there were more than 1500 contractors at the camp working on the expansion of the mine’s copper concentrators.
That work has now stopped and members of the police forensic laboratory have since traveled to the mine, which is the largest Copper project in the world.
This incident was followed by a day of drama at the site, where mining stopped last week when 2500 workers rejected a pay deal.
The Escondida Union No. 1 has established a makeshift camp at the mine, and ran several blockades on access roads and roads inside the operation, preventing contractors reaching the site.
BHP said more than 300 masked people headed from the union’s temporary camp to the mine site, bursting into a camp where contractors are based and forcing them to leave.
BHP alleges the masked group activated fire alarms, damaged property and stole goods. The company said a smaller group cut power to surveillance cameras and the mine’s entrance verification system.
The union has denied the claims, with President Patricio Tapia saying that while a group of members did enter the mine site, they marched peacefully around the contractor workers’ camp and left.
BHP has already declared force majeure on its contracts with the mine’s customers.