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Colombian coal workers return to work as strike comes to an end

World Coal,

A strike that began at Colombian coal operations of US coal miner, Drummond Co., has come to an end, as workers return to work.

Edgar Munoz, a spokesman for the Sintramineregetica union, said: "There is a partial restart of the operations now and by Tuesday all workers should have reported back to their posts."

Strike and negotiations

The strike, which began in July, severely impacted Colombia’s coal exports. On 10 September, the country’s labour ministry stepped in to take control of the situation. Following a worker vote on the matter, the labour ministry said that workers at Drummond’s coal operations must return to work.

The Sintramienergetica union, which represents more than half of Drummond’s 10,000 permanent employees, called for strike action after negotiations between union and company officials failed to find a resolution.

A sticking point in negotiations was 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 Drummond’s coal port in early 2014.

Coal production halted

The strike halted production at Drummond’s port, as well as its Pribbenow and El Descanso coal mines.

Drummond is Colombia’s second largest coal miner. The company produced 26 million t in 2012, roughly one third of the country’s total coal output.

Colombia, one of the world’s largest exporters of coal, relies on its coal exports for much needed income. The national mining agency estimated the country lost US$ 850,000 for each day of the strike.

Colombia coal sector hit by industrial action

It has been a year marked by industrial disputes for the Colombian coal sector. The strike at Drummond’s operations followed a month long strike at Carrejon, which ended in March. Meanwhile, railway workers at Colombia’s key coal rail line, run by Fenoco, have threatened strike action during negotiations over pay.

The effect of such industrial action has thrown some doubt over the domestic coal sector’s ability to meet the Colombian Government’s coal production target of 94 million t.

However, a report by Bank of America Merrill Lynch this month said Colombian supply losses could amount to an estimated 8 million t this year, barring further disruptions. “Ample supplies elsewhere made up for the losses from Colombia,” the report said.

Edited from various sources by Sam Dodson

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