Chilean govt web site generates 1,000-plus job offers for trapped miners and their co-workers

By Vivian Sequera, AP
Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Chile’s trapped miners have a thousand job offers

SANTIAGO, Chile — Chile’s 33 trapped miners have something good to think about: their next jobs. Bulldozer driver, mechanic, electrician. And here’s a couple they might find particularly useful: “risk reduction specialist” and “escape-tunnel driller.”

Two dozen companies with operations in Chile have made more than 1,000 job offers to the trapped miners and their 317 sidelined co-workers at a job fair this week. Even if they choose to go back to mining, the work won’t necessarily be underground and it will almost certainly be with a company with a better safety record than their struggling current employer.

The 33 miners have been trapped for 40 days in harrowing, sweltering conditions since an Aug. 5 collapse. No miners in history have been trapped so long, and it still could be months before a hole large enough to get them out is completed. They are getting food, medicine, communication and other essentials through narrower holes dug by rescuers, but their anxiety has become evident, with more questions asked each time they hear the drilling stop.

Their relatives wait anxiously for the miners, many in tents at the mine itself, but in many ways life goes on without them. One of them, Ariel Ticona, became a father for the first time Tuesday.

The San Esteban mining company, which owns the mine, has pursued bankruptcy protection since the collapse and has claimed it can’t afford to pay the trapped miners, even though they’ll have to work their way out by clearing rubble around the clock below the escape tunnels.

The San Jose miners have been offered 1,188 jobs as of Tuesday, many of them posted on a government labor ministry web site. Mining industry companies have interviewed some 200 of the miners who are not trapped at a hotel in the regional capital of Copiapo, and say they have no trouble waiting for the trapped miners to be rescued before they interview them as well.

“The 33 won’t be without a job,” vowed Sara Morales, a deputy human resources director for Terra Services, a Chilean drilling company. She told The Associated Press on Tuesday that she had received resumes from 80 miners and will offer 20 of them jobs.

There will be no deadline for the trapped miners to take advantage of this “relocation program,” said Jose Tomas Letelier, a vice-president at Canadian gold mining company Kinross.

None of the trapped miners should have to venture back into marginal mines like San Jose that struggle to meet Chile’s modern safety standards. Many of these job offers come from some of the world’s most advanced mining companies — major international players making huge investments in Chile.

The companies are prepared to have the miners work as truck or bulldozer drivers, heavy equipment operators, electricians, mechanics, and supervisors in various jobs up on the surface. Kinross alone is offering 46 positions, including risk reduction specialist.

“As the name suggests, it’s to prevent risks in mining, which is a very risky activity … it’s a very important role,” Letelier said.

Even without the government-organized job offers, the miners shouldn’t lack for work in the industry. Chile’s mining sector is booming, with $50 billion in new investment expected in the next five years, making skilled mining workers increasingly hard to find.

“It’s already difficult today to find certain kinds of operators,” Letelier said.

Some of the jobs being offered to the miners seem risky — like the four “explosives handler” positions the San Geronimo mining company seeks to fill.

Some of the spouses of the trapped men have warned them to give up mining or else.

Lila Ramirez has said her marriage to 63-year-old Mario Gomez will be over if he returns to the mines.

And Carola Narvaez, whose husband, Raul Bustos, is stuck underground, said a few days after the miners were found alive that “in my heart, I don’t want him to ever return to the mines.”

Asked if she thought her husband would be willing to give up the relatively good wages a man can make in mining — and if she would have the power to convince him otherwise — she flashed a bittersweet smile and shrugged. “Every man has to work,” she said.

Miners who narrowly escaped the San Jose collapse have said they chose to work at the marginal gold and copper mine precisely because its added risk meant the San Esteban mining company had to pay slightly better wages. The San Jose mine lacks safety measures such as an escape tunnel, and just weeks before the collapse, falling rock cost one worker his leg.

Dozens of engineers are now working day and night to construct and maintain the three giant drills that the government has brought in to reach the miners. Two drills have been put into service, but one of them was out of commission for six days after breaking when it hit an iron bar.

That drill, known as the “Plan B” drill, was working again Tuesday after engineers used magnets to pull out a large shattered piece and replacement parts were flown in from the United States. A massive “Plan C” drill is expected to be operational by Sept. 20.

Once the drills break through to the bottom reaches of the mine, they’ll have to do it all over again, widening the tunnels just enough to be able to pull the men out one by one. Experts believe it will be early November before the last miner is rescued.

Worry gave way to joy for Ticona on Tuesday when his wife, Elizabeth Segovia, gave birth to their daughter by cesarean section.

The couple had planned to name the girl Carolina, but Ticona had a change of heart by the time he and a relative had a recorded video chat through a fiber-optic cable connection.

“Tell her to change the name of our daughter … and give her a long-distance kiss!” Ticona said as the other miners shouted, “We’re going to name her Esperanza!” — the Spanish word for hope.

Segovia told Chile’s Canal 13 network that she had exactly the same thought.

Associated Press Writers Federico Quilodran in Santiago, Aliosha Marquez in Copiapo, Brad Brooks at the San Jose mine and Frank Bajak in Bogota contributed to this story.

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