* Refining operations at Cartagena unaffected
* Expansion project will more than double capacity
* Dispute is over pay
BOGOTA, Sept 20 Construction workers expanding
Colombia's biggest oil refinery went on strike on Friday in a
dispute over a pay, halting the $6.47 billion project but
leaving refining operations unaffected.
The stoppage is the first in the country's oil sector in
nine years, though labor disruption has been widespread this
year in the country's coal mining sector, with weeks-long
stoppages at the two biggest producers of the mineral.
U.S.-listed CB&I, or Chicago Bridge and Iron Co, has
been tasked with more than doubling capacity at the Cartagena
refinery known as Reficar, to 165,000 barrels by 2015 from
80,000 at present.
Reficar, fully owned by state-run oil producer Ecopetrol
, said its refining operations were unaffected by the
stoppage of roughly 10,000 workers on the project, which began
at 10 a.m. on Friday.
"We started a strike over the intransigent policies of CB&I
with regard to demands of workers who earn salaries well below
those paid by other companies in the sector," said Rodolfo
Vecino, president of the USO, an oil sector labor union.
While the USO union says it wants wage increases of up to 43
percent depending on job function, CB&I says it has offered
increases of between 23 percent and more than 100 percent of
workers' incomes and benefits.
"The company laments the start of the strike by the union
and its consequences, particularly the suspension of labor
contracts of 10,000 workers of CB&I Colombiana SA who will no
longer receive their salaries," Reficar said.
CB&I and the union were continuing negotiations to reach a
deal enabling them to suspend the strike and for workers to
return to their jobs, the union and Reficar said.
The expansion project at Reficar, which focuses on serving
the export market, is vital, so that Ecopetrol can increase
refining capacity to 650,000 barrels per day by 2015.
Colombia's biggest refinery, Barrancabermeja, is in the
central province of Santander and has a refining capacity of
250,000 barrels of oil daily.