* Non-unionized workers want strike lifted
* Main union wants vote discarded, says not legal
* Strike over pay, working conditions
(Adds comment from Drummond workers)
By Luis Jaime Acosta and Helen Murphy
BOGOTA, Sept 6 A vote to end a more than
six-week-long strike by union employees at U.S. coal miner
Drummond's Colombian operations does not end the work
stoppage until the labor ministry makes a definitive ruling,
official and worker sources said on Friday.
The decision to lift the strike now rests with the ministry,
which will study the arguments from minority unions that want to
return to work and the majority union, which wants the strike to
continue, a labor ministry source told Reuters.
Sintramienergetica, the mining and energy sector union that
instigated the walkout, might be obliged to stop the action and
return to work, he said. The ministry has not yet received the
paperwork soliciting the end to the strike.
The ballot, which took place on Thursday, had support from
unions representing a minority of Drummond's direct employees.
Even so, with slightly more than half of Drummond's 5,000
direct employees voting on Thursday in favor of ending the work
stoppage, pressure will mount on Sintramienergetica to end the
strike unilaterally, another industry source said.
Sintramienergetica Vice President Edgar Munoz told Reuters
the union was not yet ready to call a halt, and was to consult
with workers and the Labor Ministry. He also said the voting
might have been tainted by fraud.
"We have not contemplated lifting the strike, not under the
conditions that the company wants," Munoz said. "The vote was
not legal, and we will ask that it not be recognized."
Workers at Drummond, Colombia's second-largest coal miner,
have been on strike since July 23 over pay, work conditions and
a demand that 400 port workers be given other jobs when
automated loading is introduced next January.
The strike has shut down Drummond's two mines and private
port and cut the country's coal output by about a third, putting
a drag on economic growth in the country's largest mining
sector. It has had little impact on an amply supplied global
Drummond workers said on Friday that they want to return to
work. A spokeswoman, who asked not to be identified, said
paperwork has been sent to the labor ministry calling for the
strike to be lifted and for any outstanding problems to be
resolved through arbitration.
The price of European physical coal for November delivery
dropped on Friday to $75.60 per tonne, down $1.70 from the
Sintramienergetica says it represents about 2,900 of
Drummond's direct employees in Colombia, the world's
fourth-largest coal exporter. Drummond also employs roughly the
same number of third-party contractors who cannot vote.
The vote and subsequent confusion when some local media
interpreted it to mean the end of the strike, is likely to put
more pressure on Sintramienergetica, which for now is allowing
the strike to continue. The fact that a majority of direct
employees voted in favor of going back to work also implies that
some of the union's own membership voted to end the strike.
In all, 2,549 of the direct employees, slightly more than
half the workers, voted to end the strike, Drummond said.
While reiterating that the strike will continue, Munoz
expressed some uncertainty about its duration.
"Will the strike be lifted?" he asked. "That's the
(Additional reporting and writing by Peter Murphy.; Editing by
Gerald E. McCormick, Lisa Von Ahn, Gunna Dickson and Andre