It seemed like a coincidence that Collahuasi, the world’s third-biggest copper mine, went from a strike right into a port shutdown. But according to this report in La Alternativa, there are those who say the company’s use of scabs to break the strike was a direct cause of the port accident over the weekend. That accident left three workers dead and shut the port. Even to the most hard-hearted might care upon hearing that copper prices set an all time high on the news.
A bit of the article, translated by yours truly:
Three Chilean miners working for the FL Schmidt company, a contractor of Doña Inés de Collahuasi, tragically lost their lives in an accident at Puerto Patache, 65 km from Iquique, which belongs to the mining transnational.
The accident resulted from the collapse of a structure while the workers were conducting cleaning operations on the so-called “shiploader,” a cargo-bearing arm that allows Chilean copper concentrate to be loaded on ships to be taken abroad.
The secretary of the Collahuasi Workers Union, José Antonio Barraza, told Radio Cooperativa that the accident was the result of negligence by the private-sector mining company. Barraza said the dead miners, Manuel Espinoza, Rodrigo Espinoza and Sergio Gatica, “were cleaning the shiploader and, as they didn’t know, simply loaded it and didn’t see that it was overloaded. They had no idea about that.”
The representative added that when “the company replaced workers on strike, they should have done so with trained people,” but instead of that, “put in whatever person as a replacement, and untrained people,”
The regional governor then denies that human error had anything to do with the accident, saying it was a structural problem, and the fire chief complain that they were kept away from the victims, saying, “We deserve some respect. We were alerted and then we kept at a distance, and I believe that’s improper.”
Now, of course, the union boss is a biased source, and it’s possible that the use of untrained replacement workers had nothing to do with these deaths. But if not, it is a rather odd bit of timing. Collahuasi, like other big mines, usually takes safety very seriously and has very few deadly accidents. Could well be more than just a run of bad luck.