July 3, 2020 / 8:03 PM / a month ago

Unions at Codelco´s Chuquicamata mine approve new measures to combat coronavirus

SANTIAGO, July 3 (Reuters) - Chile´s state-run Codelco said on Friday unions at its Chuquicamata mine division had voted to implement a seven-day on, seven-day off shift schedule at the sprawling copper deposit in a bid to reduce worker exposure to the exploding coronavirus outbreak in the country´s mine-rich desert north.

World top copper producer Codelco said in a statement several of the division´s unions had approved the measure by a majority vote of over 75%.

"This is a preventative measure to... reduce exposure time, transfers and the possibility of generating crowds in common areas," the company said.

Codelco´s Chuquicamata mine, a massive deposit that produced 385,309 tonnes of copper in 2019, lies in a region that has been especially hard hit by coronavirus. Three workers have died from COVID-19 at the site, according to union and company reports.

Mine unions and social groups have recently ratcheted up pressure on Codelco and other miners to beef up protections for workers, including a proposal this week to close all of the region´s mines for two weeks.

Codelco CEO Octavio Araneda said in an interview with local media on Thursday that any such move would be "catastrophic" for the country. He defended the company´s virus response as proactive.

The company temporarily shut down its Chuquicamata smelter and refinery last week, but continues to operate its mines throughout the country with skeleton crews.

Reporting by Dave Sherwood Editing by Chris Reese

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