ANTOFAGASTA, CHILE – In the dusty mining city of Antofagasta in northern Chile, the copper miners are not the only ones lamenting the end of the commodities boom – and the juicy bonuses that went with it.
Businesses in Antofagasta – from retailers of cars and luxury cruises to taxis and restaurants – formerly enjoyed windfalls every time miners renegotiated their contracts, which in Chile typically means a one-off bonus for each worker.
In 2013, workers at BHP Billiton’s Escondida, the world’s biggest copper mine, each received a payment worth $49,000 at the then-exchange rate, the highest ever paid in Chile.Competing for their custom, local shopkeepers put out signs saying “Take it now and pay when you get your bonus”.
Four years later contracts are being renegotiated, but the signs are gone. Although copper prices have recovered somewhat in recent months, they are still down some 30 percent from 2013, and last year saw a wave of job losses and output cuts across the industry.
This time, BHP has offered Escondida workers just $12,000, one of the factors that has led angry workers to go on strike.
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