Multinational metals and mining firm BHP has reportedly resumed operations at its Spence copper mine in northern Chile after a workers’ union went on strike yesterday.

The strike was a result of safety concerns triggered by the retrenchment of more than 50 workers and eight supervisors at the deposit, Reuters reported, citing workers’ union president Ronald Salcedo.

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Salcedo was quoted by the news agency as saying: “These layoffs are strange given that costs are under control at the mine and even more so given that the company is pushing the upgrade project, which should mean contracting more workers.”

BHP confirmed to the news agency that it had cut 57 jobs at the project and the affected roles included mine operators, supervisors and maintenance workers.  According to the firm, operations at mine have returned to normalcy.

BHP attributed the job cuts to a review of “its operational situation, processes and the resources necessary to conduct its operations safely and sustainably over time.”

Located near the Chilean coastal city of Antofagasta, the Spence deposit is an important asset for the company; it is the second largest mine in the country, after the Escondida copper operation.

Last year, production from the Spence mine stood at 198,600t of copper.

The company plans to invest around $2.5bn to increase the life of the Spence mine by more than 50 years, and is targeting commencement of new output in 2021.

“These layoffs are strange given that costs are under control at the mine and even more so given that the company is pushing the upgrade project.”

The proposed investment is expected to generate employment for up to 5,000 people.

BHP is focused on copper to replenish its resource base. Earlier this week, the company made a copper discovery near its Olympic Dam poly-metallic operations in South Australia.

The discovery of the new iron oxide, copper and gold mineralised system is part of the company’s ongoing copper exploration programme.