* Strike has run seven weeks, seen hurting economy
* No official confirmation on when it will end
* Came in turbulent year for Colombia coal
By Luis Jaime Acosta and Peter Murphy
BOGOTA, Sept 13 Colombia's Labor Ministry said
on Friday it was calling an arbitration tribunal after 52 days
of strike action by workers at the local operations of
U.S.-based coal miner Drummond, a decision it said
should end the dispute.
The stoppage has halted about one third of production by the
world's No. 4 coal exporter and has been the second major strike
in Colombia's coal sector this year, cutting royalty revenues
for the government and crimping economic growth.
"The Labor Ministry today summoned an obligatory arbitration
tribunal at the company Drummond ... The decision ... implies
the lifting of the strike declared at the said company," the
ministry said in a brief statement on its website.
The strike added to disruption in an already turbulent year
for Colombia's coal sector, with a month-long strike at its
biggest miner Cerrejon in February and logistics problems that
had affected rail transport and the loading of ships.
The Drummond stoppage has had little impact on coal prices
however, with the global market well-supplied, a factor that has
weighed on prices for most of this year. Coal for delivery to
Europe (ARA) traded at $78 a tonne on Friday.
Drummond exported 26 million tonnes of coal in 2012, about
one third of the national total. It had been expected to produce
32 million tonnes out of some 94 million tonnes of forecast
national output in 2013, which would earn the nation about 900
billion pesos ($480 million) in royalties, the government has
said, up from 700 billion pesos last year.
Those targets are likely to be jeopardized after two
prolonged stoppages in a sector which accounts for about 2.4
percent of the Andean nation's GDP.
The strike immediately shut down Drummond's exports since it
included workers at its privately operated port as well as
laborers at its two mines, Pribbenow and El Descanso, located in
the north of the country.
Colombian legislation provides for the Labor Ministry to
intervene to seek an end to strike action once it reaches 60
days in duration. This means it could potentially continue for
Workers represented by the Sintramienergetica union are
demanding a pay rise above the 5 percent Drummond has offered, a
fixed monthly salary instead of by-the-hour pay and new jobs for
400 port workers who are to be made redundant next January with
the introduction of direct conveyor belt loading of ships.
The Labor Ministry said it took the decision to impose the
tribunal after the majority of Drummond's roughly 5,000 direct
employees voted last week to accept the company's offer and
return to work. Sintramienergetica told Reuters this week that
most of its members still wanted to continue the strike.
In a proposed three-year pay deal posted on its website,
Drummond said it was offering workers a one-off 8.5 million peso
($4,400) bonus upon signing up to it. It did not make mention of
an earlier promise to retain 70 percent of the 400 port workers,
something the union has demanded be included in the text.
Parties to labor disputes in Colombia usually nominate one
representative each then choose a third jointly.
Sintramienergetica negotiator Cesar Flores told Reuters he
had not been notified of any decision by the Labor Ministry and
would therefore offer no comment. A Drummond spokeswoman said
the company may issue a statement later on Friday.
An end to the strike will come as a relief to the government
as economic growth appears to be lagging behind its target of
4.5 percent for the year.
It will also take some of the heat off the administration of
President Juan Manuel Santos after a run of labor disputes in
the last few months including strikes by artisanal miners, state
school teachers, and one by farmers nationwide that turned