UPDATE 2-Coal workers accept 3-yr wage deal offered by Colombia's Cerrejon

Thu Mar 7, 2013 10:22am EST

* Cerrejon workers have been on strike since Feb. 7

* Deal would give laborers a bonus of around $7,000

* Union hopes agreement ready to be signed on Friday

By Jack Kimball

BOGOTA, March 7 (Reuters) - Workers at Colombia's biggest coal exporter, Cerrejon, have accepted a three-year salary offer, paving the way for the signing of a final deal on Friday to end a month-long strike, union officials said.

Cerrejon's walkout since Feb. 7 is the last major supply problem remaining in Colombia, the world's fourth-largest coal exporter, after a regulator last week lifted a suspension on No. 2 exporter Drummond Ltd and a ban on nighttime operations at the main coal railway.

"The majority of workers embraced the deal and we'll be working on drafting (the agreement) today," Sintracarbon union president Igor Diaz told Reuters.

Cerrejon did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Another senior union official, Orlando Cuello, said they hoped to finish editing the deal and sign it on Friday.

Workers chose a three-year offer as opposed to another two-year choice on the table because the longer-period agreement would give them a bonus of around $7,000, he said.

That deal gives laborers a salary increase of 5.1 percent in the first year and then other increments adjusted for inflation in the following two years, Cuello said.

Before the strike began, the company offered a rise of 5 percent while the union asked for 7 percent.

The deal may be seen as a setback for union leaders though a bonus, similar to one offered by Cerrejon at the start of talks, will be a welcome relief to workers who have gone without pay since the walkout began.

Cerrejon - a joint venture between Anglo American Plc , BHP Billiton Ltd and Xstrata Plc - had to declare force majeure on some shipments due to its first walkout in two decades.

The Andean country has faced a spate of unrest across its commodity sectors, ranging from the strike at Cerrejon and suspension at Drummond to a stoppage by coffee farmers and bombings of oil pipelines.

President Juan Manuel Santos is under increasing pressure and attacks by rivals for his handling of the myriad problems.

Ten years of U.S.-backed military operations against leftist rebel groups have opened large swathes of Colombian territory to new investment and helped secure areas where exploration and production were already in progress.

Like other commodity-exporting countries, Colombia has faced increased environmental, labor and social demands, which some analysts say have replaced guerrillas as the main risk for investors.

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California state worker Albert Jagow (L) goes over his retirement options with Calpers Retirement Program Specialist JeanAnn Kirkpatrick at the Calpers regional office in Sacramento, California October 21, 2009. Calpers, the largest U.S. public pension fund, manages retirement benefits for more than 1.6 million people, with assets comparable in value to the entire GDP of Israel. The Calpers investment portfolio had a historic drop in value, going from a peak of $250 billion in the fall of 2007 to $167 billion in March 2009, a loss of about a third during that period. It is now around $200 billion. REUTERS/Max Whittaker   (UNITED STATES) - RTXPWOZ

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