Although for now the effect on production is marginal because a large part of the paralyzed staff belongs to investment projects, in the sector they fear that it will expand if the pandemic persists. This week the sector took more drastic measures. Codelco yesterday stopped the Chuquicamata smelter as a preventive measure.
During the pandemic, mining has been one of the few sectors that has managed to resist in terms of production, in addition to the fact that prices in the international market have rebounded, improving the picture a little more.
But in recent days, the scene has been changing as the situation becomes more serious. Endowment restrictions, the closure of some processes and the arrest of practically all projects, have been some of the decisions that have been made. All this, in the face of an increase in infections, which have been concentrated in the Antofagasta Region, which is also the one with the highest production and where some of the largest mines are located, such as Chuquicamata and Escondida.
Thus, today mining is operating with half of its staff, while about 1% of its workers have been infected, according to figures from the Ministry of Mining.
“The current numbers say that in mining there are 2,621 infected, of which 939 are recovered. This means that, of the 225 thousand mining workers, there is a number very close to 1% that has the virus. This is far better than many other activities. Mining has made tremendous efforts to achieve this, “said the holder of the portfolio, Baldo Prokurica.
Along the same lines, he pointed out that 48% of workers are demobilized, of which a high percentage of them continue to receive their salary.
The region with the most infections
One of the critical foci in recent days has been in the Antofagasta Region, due to the increase in cases infected by Covid-19, which led the authority to decree quarantines in various of its communes such as Antofagasta, Tocopilla and Mejillones. It is accused that one of the main outbreaks was generated precisely by the mining industry, due to the transfer of workers, who often also come from Santiago or other areas.
According to mining figures, the contagions of the industry until this Tuesday -June 23-, in that region reached 1,263.
Given the above, this week parliamentarians from the region urged mining companies in the area to only operate with workers who live in the same area, in order to reduce the number of workers transferred. The idea of closing the Calama airport was even raised, which is receiving 16 flights a day on average.
However, Minister Prokurica dismissed the above, noting that “the main focus of infections in Calama is Chuquicamata and 96% of them workers live there. The focus of the place is with the same people who live in Calama, it turns out that closing the airport is not the solution. ”
He added that those who travel the most in mining are those who work on construction projects. But, with the suspension of Chuquicamata Subterranea, which was announced this weekend, where nearly 3,000 people work, that will change considerably.
However, the authority called for miners in the area to accept the call to operate only with personnel who live in the same region. “Companies have been asked to work with endowments from the region. That is already being done by six large mining companies and we do not rule out that others do so. I wish they could all do it, as far as possible, ”he said.
The next region with the most contagions in mining is O’Higgins, with 705, where the El Teniente mine, from Codelco, is located. Also due to alerts that were triggered by an increase in cases in the mining company, it was decided to change the strategy and have 14×14 shifts, that is, 14 days are worked and 14 days off. Further down, the Tarapacá, Valparaíso and Metropolitana regions have 178, 153 and 181 infected cases, respectively.
Effect on production
Despite the contagions and the industry operating with half of its staff, a greater effect on production has been ruled out. “In Chilean mining so far the changes have been quite few, there has been continuity in production. But, the calculations that Cochilco makes regarding what is going to be until the end of the year, are that approximately 200 thousand tons of copper are going to stop being produced, ”said Prokurica. In other words, it would be 3.5% less production.
A little more cautious was Plusmining’s executive director, Juan Carlos Guajardo, who said that in recent weeks everything was operational, but that “in recent days we have been hearing several comments, still scattered, about impacts on production. There will not be data until another time when the statistics are known, but the effect is already being recognized. ”
The companies have tried to alleviate the productive effect of the reduction in staff by concentrating workers in critical tasks, in addition to reviewing the mining plans and hoping to recover in the rest of the year what may eventually stop occurring these days.
One of the first measures the miners took was to halt projects under construction. These include Quebrada Blanca Fase 2, by Teck; INCO, from Antofagasta Minerals; and Rajo Inca and Chuquicamata Subterránea, from Codelco. According to the mining minister, there are more than 30,000 workers who were involved in the construction projects of the industry and who are now demobilized. Thus, he added that more than 90% of projects under construction are halted, which is a good sign given the increase in infections.
“What other economic activity in Chile has sent half of its workers home and a large number of them continue to pay their wages? Here people are not being sacrificed and the first thing we have asked is that life and health be safeguarded for everyone, ”said Prokurica.
Antofagasta Minerals, linked to the Luksic group, is operating with 65% of its staff, counting its own workers and contractors. One of the measures the miner took was to modify shifts. Along with the above, an exclusive transportation system was established, including charter flights between Santiago and Antofagasta, as well as buses to different cities.
Codelco halts smelter in Chuquicamata
A new stoppage was added this Thursday to the list. This is the Chuquicamata Division smelter and refinery, as a preventive measure given the increase in infections in the region. The measure is transitory in nature and aims to reduce exposure in the areas, and reinforce preventive efforts and controls of safety and health of people in the division. The decision also contemplates the decrease of about 400 people, the arrest of teams and the reduction of production rates in both areas.
Nicolás Rivera, general manager of the division explained that “this new initiative is a proactive action to tackle the next difficult weeks that we will have to face as a country, society and Chuquicamata.”
Translated with Google Translator