* Cerrejon workers have been on strike since Feb. 7
* Company, union may sign pre-talks deal on Monday
* After pre-deal, wage talks may have fixed 5-day period
By Jack Kimball
BOGOTA, Feb 23 Colombia's largest coal exporter,
Cerrejon, and striking workers may restart stalled wage
negotiations on Monday after agreeing on logistical issues for
the talks, the union and the company said on Saturday.
Cerrejon, the world's fourth-largest coal exporter, has lost
an average of around 180,000 tonnes of production and about $1.5
million in royalties daily as a result of the walkout and a
loading suspension since early this month.
Since the start of the strike, talks between Cerrejon and
the Sintracarbon union have focused exclusively on the rules and
regulations for how to begin substantive negotiations. The
process has been mediated by the government.
Cerrejon, which has mines in the northern province of
Guajira, said that once a pre-deal was signed by both sides,
wage talks would begin with a limited time-frame of five days.
It was not immediately clear what would happen if no deal were
reached after five days.
"It is hoped that the signing of the minutes and the restart
of the dialogue occur in the mine on Monday, February 25,"
Cerrejon said in a statement.
Sintracarbon president Igor Diaz confirmed that negotiations
may re-start on Monday to try to end Cerrejon's first strike in
two decades, but said no time limit had been agreed upon.
"The conditions have not yet been defined. They'll be
defined on Monday," Diaz told Reuters.
The strike has forced Cerrejon to declare force majeure on
some of its cargoes, its CMC marketing arm said last week.
Cerrejon is a joint venture between Anglo American,
BHP Billiton and Xstrata and accounts for
nearly 40 percent, or 34 million tonnes, of Colombia's national
annual output. It supplies power generators mainly in Europe.
Analysts said the apparent global abundance of coal and weak
demand in key markets may mean buyers have been cushioned from
big price rises despite multiple disruptions to shipments.
Prompt deliveries of coal into northern European ports are
trading just below $90 a tonne, just a few dollars above their
levels before the Cerrejon strike began.
API2 coal swaps for 2014 delivery on Friday
settled near $99/tonne, $3 above levels at the start of 2013.
Cerrejon's problems have added to the woes of the Colombian
coal sector, including the suspension of trains running at night
in the main coal-producing province of Cesar and the suspension
of loading at the main Caribbean port of Drummond, the other top
Colombia's deputy mining minister told Reuters on Wednesday
that the issue with the main coal railway, known as Fenoco, may
be resolved within a month.
Last year, strikes at Fenoco and a Glencore-owned mine
helped drag down Colombia's economic growth in the
third-quarter, and the fear is that a prolonged stoppage at
Cerrejon and Drummond this year may again hit the economy.
The economy is already hurting from weak data in
manufacturing and industry. Overseas sales have also suffered
from lower commodity prices.
On Friday, the central bank said that reduced coal exports
would hit economic growth in the first quarter.