Striking miners at Southern Copper to seek talks

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Striking miners at Southern Copper in Peru will seek labor talks this week as a stoppage entered its 11th day, a union official said.

Company officials and workers are expected to attend government-brokered talks at the labor ministry in a bid to break the deadlock, union general secretary Jorge Campos told BNamericas on Thursday.

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About 3,000 workers who began a strike April 10 at Southern's Cuajone and Toquepala mines and Ilo smelter are pressuring for a bigger share of profits and better healthcare and working conditions. A mechanics' union at Toquepala also downed tools last week.

Phoenix-based Southern, a unit of Grupo México, has threatened to fire workers after the ministry declared the strike illegal, Campos said in a telephone interview. The company has hired emergency workers to keep operations running partially, he said.

Southern's press office did not immediately reply to an e-mail seeking comment. The union at Grupo México's Asarco unit expressed its support for the strike, claiming Southern has refused to negotiate "in good faith."

"Grupo México is an enemy of the workers," the United Steelworkers union said in a statement. "We cannot permit any company in any country, no matter how overbearing, to fire union leaders or refused to negotiate with its workers."

Workers at Freeport-McMoRan's Cerro Verde mine in Peru ended a 21-day strike last month after reaching an agreement on similar issues. Cerro Verde workers staged their stoppage in two parts after their strike was also declared illegal.

Southern, which has operations in Peru and Mexico, boosted its 2016 earnings by 5.4% to US$776.5mn last year thanks to stronger metals prices and production and lower costs. Sales rose 6.6% to US$5.38bn in 2016.

Copper output increased 19.3% to 917,790t in 2016, while zinc production rose 19.5% to 73,984t and silver gained 21.7% to 16.2Moz. Molybdenum fell 7% to 21,736t.

While Southern has been focusing on Mexican projects such as the US$3.5bn expansion of its Buenavista mine, the company is also working on the US$1.2bn Toquepala expansion and US$216mn Cuajone expansion in Peru.

The company is counting on expansions in Peru and Mexico to help boost annual copper output to 1Mt by 2019. The copper market has been roiled by strikes at Cerro Verde and BHP Billiton's Escondida mine in Chile, in addition to a halt in operations at Freeport's Grasberg mine in Indonesia.