A worker monitors a process inside the plant at the copper refinery of Codelco Ventanas in Ventanas city, northwest of Santiago, Chile. Picture: REUTERS/RODRIGO GARRIDO
A worker monitors a process inside the plant at the copper refinery of Codelco Ventanas in Ventanas city, northwest of Santiago, Chile. Picture: REUTERS/RODRIGO GARRIDO

Santiago — Chile's state miner Codelco, the world’s top copper producer, said on Wednesday one of its mines was shut and operations at a smelter drastically reduced amid a general strike as protests and chaos have rocked the South American nation.

Six of Codelco’s eight divisions were carrying on with the “majority of their operations”, the company said in a statement.

The strike had shut down Codelco’s Andina copper mine near Santiago, and had also hobbled its Ventanas copper smelting division, which was operating with a skeleton crew to “ensure the security of its facilities”.

The company said its Salvador division was operating “partially”.

The Copper Workers Federation (FTC), which includes unionised workers from each of Codelco’s divisions, agreed late on Tuesday to join the general, strike along with other sectors, including teachers and public employees.

“All of our divisions are taking part in one way or another in this national protest,” Juan Olguin, head of the FTC, said.

At least 15 people have died in protests that started over a hike in public transport costs that prompted arson attacks and looting of businesses and the declaration of a state of emergency by Chilean President Sebastián Piñera over much of Chile.

Limited impact

Several of the world's largest miners, including BHP Group, Anglo American and Teck Resources, have operations in Chile.

Despite the unrest, most mines were operating normally.

Shift workers at BHP’s big Escondida copper mine, the world’s largest, walked off the job for several hours on Tuesday in a show of support for protesters’ demands. Any impact on production by the short walk-off was likely to be recuperated in subsequent days, the union said.

Copper producer Antofagasta said on Wednesday protests in Chile could cut its production by about 5,000 tons, equivalent to less than 3% of third-quarter output, due to delays in supplies and travel disruptions for workers.

Teck and Anglo American did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The International Copper Study Group (ICSG) said on Wednesday the copper market would see a surplus of 281,000 tons in 2020.

“Taking into account such forecasts, the strike in Chile is unlikely to have any significant effect on the copper market,” said Anton Berlin, head of marketing at Russia's Norilsk Nickel.

Reuters