A group representing Chilean fruit exporters said Monday that their losses from a strike by port workers could exceed $100 million by the end of this week.

To the $40 million in losses caused by the strike last week could be added another $65 million if the work stoppage continues until Friday, Fedefruta said in a statement.

The strike is centered at the port of San Antonio, 108 kilometers (67 miles) southwest of Santiago, where in addition to hundreds of containers of fresh fruit, 20,000 tons of copper have not been able to be loaded for shipment.

Workers are demanding - retroactive to 2005 - half an hour's pay for break time that was deemed by their employers to be "time not worked."

The protest has been characterized as illegal because in Chile a strike can only be legally declared during the process of collective bargaining and companies are authorized to hire replacement workers.

In that context, the port workers are blocking access to the docks as a pressure tactic.

"The longer the conflict continues, the more critical the situation will become for producers and exporters, since in February we load more than six million boxes per week, which would represent catastrophic losses for a sector," Fedefruta president Cristian Allendes said.

The port strike has been under way for more than 20 days at some ports, including Chile's main maritime terminals.

Not being able to ship the 20,000 tons of copper at San Antonio has resulted in $130 million in reduced income, state-owned copper giant Codelco said.

Chile's rightist government has harshly criticized the striking workers, despite saying that this is a private dispute. EFE