August 4, 2014 / 9:50 PM / 4 years ago

Colombia coal contractors to vote on whether to continue strike

BOGOTA, Aug 4 (Reuters) - Contract workers at Colombia’s biggest coal mines will begin voting on Tuesday on whether to continue a four-week strike action, their employer said, while mining companies said the stoppage had minimal impact on operations.

The vote has been organized by a faction within roughly 3,400 employees of contractor Dimantec who have been on strike since July 9 over pay, Oscar Palacios, Dimantec’s sales manager, said in an interview. The organizers back ending the strike, he said.

About 1,200 employees, are members of Sintraime, the union that has led the strike, he said.

The vote will take place at locations where the company operates, from Tuesday to Friday this week, according to a statement sent from a webmail account whose origin could not be verified by the time of publication.

The impact of the strike has been minimal for Colombia’s biggest coal miner, joint venture Cerrejon, because it employs only 56 Dimantec contract workers, a small portion of its own 1,300-strong maintenance workforce.

“It isn’t a big number for us that alters our operations in a critical way. This is why it hasn’t had a bigger impact,” Cerrejon’s vice president for public affairs, Juan Carlos Restrepo, told Reuters.

Cerrejon, Colombia’s biggest coal miner, is owned by Anglo American Plc, BHP Billton Ltd and Glencore Plc.

Dimantec’s Palacios said most of the striking employees worked at the second-biggest coal miner, Drummond, and at Glencore subsidiary Prodeco, with around 700 stationed at each. A further 900 striking employees worked at a remote Dimantec maintenance site, servicing equipment. The remainder were dispersed in different roles around the country, Palacios said.

Drummond said its coal mining operations were unaffected.

“There has been no impact to the operations; we have replacement workers on site,” the company said in response to an emailed inquiry.

Dimantec General Manager Alvaro Ropero has said the company remained open to dialogue although the latest round of meetings with employees last week ended without agreement. The Sintraime workers’ union says Dimantec has held firmly to its pay offer in recent meetings, which the union has refused to accept.

The stoppage has had little impact on the coal market in Europe, to which much of Colombia’s produce is exported for power generation. In recent days, traders have focused on possible disruption of supplies from Russia. (Reporting by Peter Murphy; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)

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