(Ottawa) Tensions are high as the population of Andacollo in Chile nervously awaits COVID-19 test results from a worker at Teck’s Carmen de Andcaollo mine.
MiningWatch was informed Wednesday evening that a worker at Vancouver-based Teck’s copper mine had been exposed to COVID-19 after his son tested positive for the virus. According to local sources, the worker unknowingly passed a full shift inside the mine after having been exposed to his son, and has now been isolated awaiting his test results.
The mine continues to operate normally, despite workers’ calls to suspend operations until they have a clear indication that there is no outbreak. No other workers who had come into contact with the worker in question have been tested, and one of the mine’s managers stated to a city councillor that there is no infection (despite having no proof). The company is refusing to shut down the operations, an action that isn’t sitting well with the mine’s union.
The possible outbreak marks another struggle for the mineworkers and the Andacollo population. At the end of last year, the mine was shut down for 52 days when the Carmen de Andacollo miners’ union was forced out on strike, with health and safety at the centre of their demands, while the company refused to come to the negotiating table. The strike coincided with the widespread protests and popular demands for more dignified working and living conditions that sent shockwaves through Chile.
In an internal communication to the community’s elected officials, the union states, “We lost 52 days for pride and arrogance, and so why can’t we lose 2 or 3 days to wait for the results? That way, we could calm the concerns of the workers and minimize the likelihood of a stress-induced accident.”
Fears of a possible COVID-19 outbreak are alive among the town’s population, considered a “zone saturated with contamination” by government officials. In March, the municipality’s mayor warned that an outbreak could be catastrophic for a population already suffering from severe respiratory conditions from mine contamination.
Javier Cifuentes González, a councillor for the Commune of Andacollo, frustrated by the company’s lack of action, told MiningWatch Canada, “They [mine management] are not sending the workers home, nor are they doing the corresponding tests to make sure the virus doesn’t spread. This is a clear demonstration that the company doesn’t care about the health and safety of its workers or the commune, rather they only care about economics.”
Teck’s disregard for worker and community health and safety doesn’t stop at Andacollo. In Peru, at the huge Antamina copper mine that Teck co-owns with Glencore and BHP, a company manager denied there was an outbreak when workers complained that many of them were suffering symptoms, and refused to shut down the mine. A little more than two weeks later, one worker was reported dead and another 210 infected. The company is currently under criminal investigation for violating sanitary measures and disobeying authority.
Teck was also openly criticised for failing to adequately implement security measures to protect workers in Canada. The Narwhal reported in March that workers feared repercussions if they spoke out about health and safety concerns.
- Kirsten Francescone, MiningWatch Canada, +1 (437) 345-9881
- Javier Cifuentes Gonzales, Councillor of the Commune of Andacollo, +56 99 706 2748 (WhatsApp, in Spanish)