UPDATE 1-Colombia govt mediates Cerrejon, coal union talks

Fri Feb 4, 2011 12:57pm EST

Related Topics

* Vicepresident say confident of Friday deal

* Cerrejon, workers have been in talks since early Dec

* Union expected to decide on Saturday on strike (Recasts with vicepresident comment)

BOGOTA, Feb 4 (Reuters) - Colombia's government scrambled on Friday to avoid a looming strike at the country's largest coal exporter, Cerrejon, by mediating between workers and management over a compensation deal, officials said.

Cerrejon produces on average 85,000 tonnes a day of high-quality thermal coal, and any prolonged stoppage at the mine would hurt output at a time when global supplies are tight due to issues in almost all major thermal producers.

Colombian Vice President Angelino Garzon said he was confident the two sides would reach a deal in a few hours.

"There is willingness from the company and the union to make all the effort needed to reach a deal and avoid the strike," Garzon told reporters. "The effort I am making as vice-president is to build an agreement today, and I've told the company and the workers that."

Earlier, Francisco Ramirez, a consultant for the Sintracarbon union, told Reuters the company and workers would meet Garzon for talks after the two sides failed to reach a deal in discussions that began in early December.

The union is expected to decide on Saturday whether to accept the final proposal from Cerrejon or go on strike -- close to the Sunday deadline fixed by Colombian law for workers to carry out a walkout or vote again on the strike.

Cerrejon is a joint venture owned equally by BHP Billiton (BLT.L), Anglo American (AAL.L) and Xstrata XTA.L.

Global coal markets have been vulnerable to supply disruptions in many important exporting countries, such as Australia, and that has boosted prices. (Reporting by Jack Kimball and Monica Garcia; Editing by Marguerita Choy and David Gregorio)

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