* Further talks could follow but none scheduled
* Union leaders to meet labor minister on Friday
* Strike could cut Colombia coal output nearly a third
By Peter Murphy
BOGOTA, July 18 Eleventh-hour talks on Thursday
between U.S. coal miner Drummond and a workers union
in Colombia have achieved nothing, a union leader told Reuters,
making strike action at the country's No. 2 coal producer
Unionized workers voted in favor of strike action on
Wednesday after failing to reach an agreement with the company
over pay and conditions but the sides held further talks on
Thursday in an attempt to avert a walk-out. Drummond employs
around 10,000 in the country.
"The negotiations didn't advance an inch. The company's
position was the same," said Cesar Flores, negotiator for the
Sintramienergetica union, adding that the union had still not
ruled out further talks though none were scheduled.
The negotiations are being closely watched by the coal
market which risks output from Colombia, the world's No. 4 coal
exporter, falling by nearly one-third if Drummond's two mines
and sea port are halted. With traders preparing to purchase
stocks ahead of winter, relatively plentiful supplies on the
market now could tighten in a prolonged stoppage, potentially
pushing up prices.
A strike would also be a major headache for the government
as it tries to stoke economic growth that was sluggish in the
first half of the year, hit by a month-long strike in February
at rival miner Cerrejon, a joint-venture between Anglo American
Plc, BHP Billiton Ltd and Xstrata Plc.
Though no further talks had been scheduled with the company
by Thursday evening, Flores said union leaders were scheduled
meet privately with Labor Minister Rafael Pardo Rueda on Friday
"The most sure thing will be that he will ask us not to
strike," Flores said, though he did not have specific details on
what was to be discussed or proposed at the meeting.
Sintramienergetica has demanded a pay rise of 10.7 percent
for this year and smaller increments in subsequent years. Though
Drummond's offer now stands at a 4.5 percent rise, the union's
vice-president Edgar Munoz, said the sides were close to a deal
on pay, indicating they would be willing to accept less.
Drummond has said union demands are beyond the reach of it
and other mining companies. Coal prices have dipped this year
and some analysts say they have fallen close to the cost of
production for some smaller-scale producers at least.
Rates for coal destined for Amsterdam-Rotterdam-Antwerp (DES
ARA) and for delivery in August last traded at $75.00 a tonne on
Thursday, unchanged from Wednesday's late trading level, with
50,000 tonnes changing hands for that contract.
Munoz said that a thornier issue than pay was the fate of
around 400 workers at Drummond's sea port, many of whom are set
to lose their jobs once the company switches to conveyor belt
loading of coal onto ships from early 2014.
Drummond said in a statement it would find other positions
for some of those workers and offer a "withdrawal plan" to the
others without specifying what this consisted of. The union, on
the other hand, is demanding that all of those workers be