BOGOTA Feb 17 Cerrejon coal company and its
striking workers have failed to agree on how to proceed with
wage negotiations to end a walkout at Colombia's largest coal
exporter, union and company officials said on Sunday.
The coal sector has been reeling from a series of problems
that have cut most of production in the world's fourth-largest
coal exporter, including Cerrejon's strike, a stoppage at the
second largest producer and a nighttime ban on coal trains.
The Sintracarbon union said there had not been any advances
in talks since Friday which had dealt with logistical issues
aimed at eventually re-starting talks about wages and benefits.
"Cerrejon left the table," union president Igor Diaz told
Reuters in a message.
Juan Carlos Restrepo, Cerrejon's vice-president of public
affairs, denied that, saying that: "The table fell apart."
Restrepo told Reuters the company proposed putting a time
limit on talks, and if the sides did not agree in the
time-frame, the dispute would move to arbitration and the strike
would be lifted.
The union rejected those proposals, saying that they would
be "contrary to legal precepts".
Cerrejon said there were no immediate plans to meet with the
syndicate and that the company wanted clear rules and a
time-table to resume negotiations.
After months of talks, laborers at Cerrejon, a joint venture
between BHP Billiton, Anglo American and Xstrata
, went on strike on Feb. 7, the first walkout in two
Cerrejon produces around 34 million tonnes of coal per year
and primarily exports to Europe and the United States.
The strike has pushed up global coal prices.
Under Colombian law, the walkout could theoretically last up
to 60 days - afterwards it would go to an arbitration tribunal
and the strike would be automatically lifted.
There has been increasing political pressure to resolve the
dispute, which, the company estimates, costs the national
economy about $3 million daily, but despite mediation by the
labor ministry, the two sides have yet to make headway.
Unions often use strikes or the threat of a walkout to
pressure companies into better deals for workers. In 2011,
laborers at Cerrejon voted to strike but reached a deal with the
company before actually walking off the job.
Cerrejon's wage discussions were the first in a series of
labor talks in 2013 in Colombia whose mining and oil companies
have suffered in recent years from increased worker unrest and a
rise in rebel attacks.
The second biggest coal exporter, Drummond International,
also has wage talks this year.