No wages for trapped miners as firm broke
Published 01/09/2010 | 05:00
The 33 Chilean miners trapped underground may not be paid for months while rescuers try to reach them, leaving their families with no income.
The San Esteban company, which operates the mine, has said it has no money to pay wages and is not even taking part in the rescue.
It has suggested that it may go bankrupt and its licence has been suspended.
Evelyn Olmos, leader of the miners' union, called on Chile's government to pay the workers' wages from next month.
He said the government should also help 100 others at the mine who are now out of work, and 170 more who worked elsewhere for San Esteban.
"We want the government to pay our salaries in full until our comrades are freed, and then pay our severances. The company should be in debt to the government, not to the workers," Mr Olmos said.
But Chile's mining minister Laurence Golborne said labour laws prevented the authorities paying the miners' salaries or pensions. Instead, they would offer them training to find other jobs when they came out.
He said it was up to the company to pay them and the issue would have to be decided in the courts.
That left families gathered in a tented city near the mine, known as Camp Hope, wondering where September's wages would come from. Blanca Rojas, whose brother Esteban is trapped, said: "More than anything, we want Esteban out, but his family must eat."
The men reached a world record on Tuesday for the longest time miners have spent trapped underground. Last year, three people survived 25 days in a flooded mine in southern China. The Chileans, who became trapped 2,300ft (700m) down at the San Jose copper and gold mine in the Atacama desert on August 5, have now passed that mark.
The long process of reaching them began with a 31-ton Australian drilling machine making a shallow test hole in the solid rock.
It was the first step in forming a pilot hole, which will take a week. The drill will later be fitted with larger bits to expand the hole, a process that could take several months.
NASA scientists have arrived to help the men deal with months of isolation while they wait.
The mine had closed on July 3 after an accident in which a worker lost a leg, but was reopened on July 28. A senior health official who allowed it to reopen, Raul Martinez Guzman, resigned on Monday.
Its owners, Alejandro Bohn and Marcelo Kemeny, are due before a government committee to explain why work resumed at the mine.
The effort to save the miners is an unprecedented challenge, mining safety experts insisted last night.
Apart from the anticipated months of drilling, providing all goes well the men will then face a harrowing three-hour trip in a cage up a narrow hole carved through solid rock. (© Daily Telegraph, London)