* 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 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
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