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Chile's Codelco, unions to launch safety talks after worker deaths

·1 min read

By Fabian Cambero

SANTIAGO, July 21 (Reuters) - Chile's state-owned miner Codelco and its employee unions agreed to safety talks via a newly-created committee after two workers died this month in accidents, a union leader said on Thursday.

The company, the world's top copper producer, announced on Wednesday a halt to construction projects after reporting the death of a worker at its Chuqui Subterranea project, which followed another fatal accident earlier this month.

"We've proposed to start a process, more than just an audit, and decided to create an ad-hoc committee," said Amador Pantoja, president of the FTC Copper Workers Federation, which represents all company unions.

Pantoja said the joint committee's safety talks will begin next week focusing on project development and company operations, pointing to a "large number" of accidents.

Investigations into the cause of the fatal accidents are ongoing. Mining regulator Sernageomin signaled this week that it found some safety standard irregularities.

Pantoja faulted the lack of explanations from company management regarding the root causes of the accidents, and suggested that cost-cutting might be a factor.

"We've stopped doing things because of worries over costs," he said. "Today we're working with minimal crews."

In recent years, the state-run miner has focused on reducing costs while also executing multi-million dollar investments aimed at maintaining production levels.

Pantoja complained that over the past four years, workers have not been sufficiently included in key safety discussions, something the new committee aims to correct.

"We feel this is really affecting us and you can see the consequences of this lack of dialogue," he said. (Reporting by Fabian Cambero; Writing by David Alire Garcia Editing by Marguerita Choy)