(Adds further detail, background, gov't agency statement)
By Natalia A. Ramos Miranda
SANTIAGO, June 24 (Reuters) - Chilean state miner Codelco, the world's largest copper producer, on Wednesday reported the death of a third worker who had contracted the new coronavirus.
The death will pile further pressure on the country`s economically key copper mining industry as unions seek greater protection for workers.
It was reported by Codelco in an internal statement sent to Chuquicamata division workers and shared with Reuters by the Copper Workers Federation (FTC), which groups the state's miner's unions.
The victim was identified in the memo as José Alberto Levancini, an employee at Chuquicamata.
The memo did not state the cause of death but said Levancini had contracted the coronavirus outside of work.
The FTC told Reuters it had been told by Chuquicamata union leaders the man contracted COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, at the division.
Codelco declined to comment on the contents of the memo, or the FTC's claims.
Levancini's death was the second at Chuquicamata: the first COVID death reported by Codelco on June 6 was a 48-year-old man working at the mine's crushing unit. The company confirmed a second death at its separate Ministro Hales mine over the weekend.
The deaths come as Chile faces its toughest weeks so far of the pandemic with 254,416 cases and 4,731 confirmed deaths reported by the government on Wednesday.
Chile's copper miners have maintained production with skeleton staff since the pandemic outbreak in March but have recently tightened health protocols amid growing pressure from unions.
Codelco has announced a strengthening of safety measures including a 14-day-on, 14-day-off shift schedule and the suspension of some construction projects.
"We will continue to intensify all our efforts to face this pandemic, with the basic premise of protecting the health and safety of our workers," the company said in Wednesday's memo.
Chile´s Geology and Mining Service said on Wednesday it was meeting with the mining industry to discuss strengthening health protocols. The agency's director Alfonso Domeyko said miners had stressed to him the importance of workers practicing "self-care" measures in their communities as well as at work. (Reporting by Natalia Ramos, writing by Aislinn Laing; Editing by Sandra Maler and Tom Brown)