February 5, 2011 / 8:32 PM / in 7 years

Colombia coal union, Cerrejon near deal - officials

* Discussions have been ongoing since early December

* Officials say workers, company near to a deal

BOGOTA, Feb 5 (Reuters) - Colombian coal workers are expected to decide on Sunday about a new compensation deal with Cerrejon, the country’s largest exporter, their union said, with officials saying the two sides were near an agreement.

Cerrejon produces on average 85,000 tonnes a day of high-quality thermal coal, and any prolonged stoppage at the mine would hurt output at a time when global supplies are tight due to issues in almost all major thermal producers.

“We should have a decision by Sunday morning. Today we’re going to talk to two groups of workers and tomorrow another group,” Sintracarbon union president, Igor Diaz, told Reuters by telephone on Saturday.

Diaz had said on Friday that he expected a decision by midnight Saturday. [ID:nN04106121]

Another union official and a company negotiator said the two sides had reached an “initial” deal though it was still up to workers to accept the pact and a strike was still possible.

Originally all sides had said the deadline to decide on a strike was this weekend under Colombian law, but the company and the union said that deadline was set back to Tuesday after discussions with the labor ministry about the law.

Cerrejon and workers have been in talks since Dec. 9.

Cerrejon -- unlike privately owned Drummond and Glencore, Colombia’s other top coal producers -- has listed partners, BHP Billiton (BLT.L), Anglo American (AAL.L) and Xstrata XTA.L.

Adding to pressure to reach a deal with workers, its partners have had lower output from mines in Australia due to flooding.

In June last year, workers at U.S. coal miner Drummond reached a three-year deal, while a month later laborers at the La Jagua mine of Glencore’s Prodeco unit inked a two-year deal after a five-week walkout. [ID:nN15264583] [ID:nN15264583]

Global coal markets have been vulnerable to supply disruptions in many important exporting countries, such as Australia, boosting prices. (Reporting by Luis Jaime Acosta and Jack Kimball; Editing by Paul Simao)

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