SANTIAGO, Chile — Top global copper producer Codelco's massive mines returned to normal operations on Wednesday morning after the end of a 24-hour companywide strike to demand improved job security and better safety, Mining Minister Hernan de Solminihac said via Twitter.
The stoppage is estimated to have cost state miner Codelco less than metric 5,000 tons in lost output.
But it comes on the heels of other mine and port strikes, raising the specter of a steady series of labor actions as unions seek to make their demands heard ahead of Chile's November presidential election.
Private miners did not participate in the strike, but some workers delayed their shifts on Tuesday. Codelco's union bosses timed the work stoppage to make a splash during the international copper industry's CESCO/CRU conference in Santiago, the world's biggest gathering dedicated to the red metal.
Industry sources say 2013 may be an especially tricky year on the labor front for Codelco, which mines about 11 percent of the world's copper. The company is in the midst of an ambitious investment plan to lift annual production to more than 2 million metric tons by the start of the next decade.
But the revamp has led to layoffs, and workers fear more will lose their jobs or get fewer benefits during the transformation of the company's massive but depleted mines.
Tensions between the unions and Chief Executive Officer Thomas Keller, a former retail executive seen as a tough negotiator, have run high since he took the reins of the company last year.
Union leaders accuse Keller of arrogance, while Codelco says grinding production to a halt is not helping the company battle soaring costs and the reduction of its ore grade.
While many observers stressed the stoppage had strong political undercurrents, significant issues in Chile's mining industry persist. Workers are upset about the increases of subcontracted employees and accidents as well as potential job losses as major mines undergo restructuring.
Workers at Codelco's massive Radomiro Tomic mine staged a work stoppage in late March to protest the death of a worker in a landslide. They said they had warned management that the area was dangerous. The general manager resigned after days of protests.
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