Cerrejon, striking coal union to meet over walkout in Colombia

BOGOTA Fri Feb 15, 2013 8:36am EST

BOGOTA Feb 15 (Reuters) - Colombia's largest coal exporter, Cerrejon, and its striking union will meet on Friday for the first time since workers walked off the job last week, both sides said.

Laborers at Cerrejon, a joint venture between BHP Billiton , Anglo American and Xstrata, went on strike on Feb. 7, the first walkout in two decades, after failing to reach an agreement over wages and compensation.

"Cerrejon confirms its willingness to resume negotiations with Sintracarbon (union) to enable a new collective bargaining agreement 2013-2014 and put an end to a strike that has caused great harm," the company said in a statement late on Thursday.

"Accordingly, Cerrejon will attend a meeting with representatives of Sintracarbon facilitated by the Deputy Minister of Labor, Jose Noe Rivers, which constitutes a first step in seeking clear rules that permit the resumption of negotiations in a constructive way."

Sintracarbon union President Igor Diaz told Reuters that the meeting would take place on Friday.

The strike has added to problems in the coal industry, which has been hit by a suspension at Drummond, the second-largest exporter, a night-time ban on coal transport at the main railway and a dispute at a mine owned by a Goldman Sachs affiliate.

In total, about 85 percent of Colombia's daily coal production has been shut down as a result, according to calculations by Reuters and industry sources.