Colombia's Cerrejon coal mine says first half exports lowest in 18 years

BOGOTA, Aug 14 (Reuters) - Cerrejon, one of Colombia’s biggest coal producers, said on Friday its export figure for the first half of 2020 was its lowest in 18 years due to a slump in coal demand, legal rulings and the COVID-19 crisis.

The mine, located in the poor desert province of La Guajira, is owned equally by BHP Group, Anglo American and Glencore.

Exports were just 9.5 million tonnes in the first half of this year, the company said, 3.8 million less than in same period last year.

“This result is a consequence of the reduction in demand for coal, the lack of access to more profitable reserves like La Puente because of different judicial decisions and the crisis created by COVID-19, which has taken us to an unprecedented situation,” Cerrejon said in a statement.

Coal prices fell 26% in the first half compared with the first six months of 2019, the statement added.

The price fall was reflected in the company’s results, it said. In the first half of 2020 Cerrejon registered a loss of 368 billion pesos ($97.7 million).

The figures come amid a contract dispute between Cerrejon and its largest union, Sintracarbon.

The union’s members are currently voting on whether to strike. The result is expected on Monday.

“Despite the economic situation, the company has made a very good offer that maintains the excellent economic benefits the company offers to each worker and which are superior to those received by many workers in La Guajira,” Cerrejon president Claudia Bejarano said.

Benefits include an 89% subsidy for health insurance, tuition help for workers’ children, low-interest home loans and a signing bonus of 5.5 million pesos per worker.

Sintracarbon is demanding a 6% salary increase in addition to other benefits. It accuses Cerrejon of looking to cut costs by freezing, reducing and eliminating employee benefits.

$1 = 3,767.05 Colombian pesos Reporting by Julia Symmes Cobb; Editing by David Gregorio