BHP Billiton calls for “transformation” of Chile’s copper industry after mine strike

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BHP Billiton has called for a “transformation” of Chile’s copper industry following a 43-day strike at the company’s Escondida mine, the longest in the country since 1973.

“We are at the right time to begin the transformation of the Chilean copper industry for the next quarter century,” Danny Malchuk, president of the Americas at BHP, said at the CRU annual copper conference in Santiago.

The country needs to use disruptive “outside the box” technology to improve productivity and improve labour relations through public-private partnerships, Mr Malchuk said, otherwise Chile will lose its global position.

Chile is the world’s largest copper producer, accounting for about a third of global output, yet a fall in copper prices since 2011 has led to rising pressure on companies to cut wages and improve productivity.

Mining companies need to use public-private partnerships to improve training and community relations, Mr Malchuk said. They also need to harness technology to boost productivity. This could include open software solutions for driverless vehicles similar to a “Google car,” he said.

Talks with union workers for a new contract at the BHP Escondida mine broke down last month after a 43 day strike. Workers decided to end the strike and go back to work without a new contract and signing bonus, in the hopes of negotiating again in 18 months under a new labour law that came into force this month.

Mr Malchuk said it was too early to say how the new law will impact the talks with the union.

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