(Adds union statement about detained workers and suspension of
By Natalia A. Ramos Miranda and Fabian Cambero
SANTIAGO, June 22 (Reuters) - Workers at Chilean state-owned
mining giant Codelco, the world's largest copper producer,
launched a major strike on Wednesday to protest the closure of a
smelter over environmental issues, though the government
downplayed the impact on operations.
The Federation of Copper Workers (FTC), an umbrella group of
Codelco's unions, said 50,000 workers were expected to strike,
including staff and contractors after the Ventanas smelter was
shuttered despite calls for investment to keep it open.
"We already have all divisions stopped today," Amador
Pantoja, the union's president told Reuters. "We're going to
wait calmly in the morning to see if there's a chance to talk."
The government and the company, however, moved quickly to
dispel concerns over an impact to operations.
"There is no stoppage of mining sites," Finance Minister
Mario Marcel said at a news conference, hours after the strike
started. "Therefore the impact on financial income is basically
Andre Sougarret, Codelco's interim chief executive, said
there has been "some discontinuity" regarding operations, but
the company was able to take steps to resume them.
"Since this was announced, we took steps to, first of all,
guarantee people's safety and, on the other hand, continue
operations," Sougarret said.
Later in the day, the FTC said protest leaders had been
detained by police forces while protesting outside of the
company's El Teniente mine.
"Due to these regretful incidents, we're suspending any
attempt at talks with Codelco's upper administration and
actively continue with our National Strike," the FTC said in a
Codelco's board of directors approved the closure of the
Ventanas smelter last week after it had been suspended for
maintenance after dozens in the region fell ill. The decision
was later backed by Chilean President Gabriel Boric.
The facility also operates a copper refinery, which will not
be affected by the measure.
Workers had warned last week they would strike if
investments to upgrade the facility were not approved and
insisted on Tuesday the company should upgrade the smelter.
The area the smelter is located in is saturated with
industrial operations that environmental activists have
described as a "sacrifice zone" due to pollution incidents.
(Reporting by Fabian Cambero and Natalia Ramos; Writing by
Steven Grattan and Alexander Villegas; Editing by Chizu
Nomiyama, Jonathan Oatis and Marguerita Choy)