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Labour ministry takes control in Colombian coal strike

World Coal,

The six-week long strike by union employees at US coal miner Drummond’s Colombian operations is now in the hands of the government’s labour ministry, which must now make a definitive ruling on the outcome of the strike.

In July, World Coal reported that the decision had been made by the Sintramienergetica union, which represents roughly half of Drummond’s 10,000 strong Colombian workforce, to go on indefinite strike after the union failed to reach an agreement with Drummond.

Ending the strike

A ballot was held on 5th September in which over 2500 of Drummond’s employees voted in favour of ending strike action. The decision on whether the strike will end now rests with the ministry of labour.

Sintramienergetica could be obliged to halt the industrial action and return to work, if the ministry solicits an end to strike action.

However, vice president of Sintramienergetica, Edgar Munoz, told Reuters news agency that he was not ready to call a halt to the strike, and would consult workers and the labour ministry over other options. He also suggested the vote may have been tampered 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 recognised.”

The vote to end strike action was surrounded in confusion, when local media reported the vote signalled the end of the strike, rather than the decision being passed to the labour ministry.

While Sintramienergetica has allowed the strike to continue while the minsitry considers its decision, it seems likely some of the union’s own members voted to end the strike, putting pressure on the union to reflect on its position.

Coal operations

The strike has shut down Drummond’s two coal mines and private port, cutting Colombia’s coal output by about a third, impacting economic growth. In an oversupplied global coal market, however, the strike has had little impact on global coal prices.

Shortly after the strike began, Drummond declared force majeure on some cargoes from its mining operations.

The union has demanded a 9% pay increase with smaller inflation-linked increments in subsequent years. In a statement released by Drummond hours before the strike began, the company claimed its latest offer to the union was 4.75% for the first year, with a one-off bonus of US$ 3700.

Job cuts

A sticking point in negotiations has been the question of what is to become of 400 Drummond port workers, who are set to be laid off when conveyor belt loading begins at the port in early 2014. The union is hopeful all these workers can be offered alternative positions with Drummond, while the company has promised to retain 70%.

Edited from various sources by Sam Dodson

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