Colombia Cerrejon Union Sees ‘Imminent’ Strike, Union Says

Workers at Cerrejon, a Colombian coal mine owned by BHP Billiton Plc, Xstrata Plc and Anglo American Plc, may strike as early as next week, a union official said.

About 4,500 workers may go on strike from Feb. 1 to Feb. 7 at Cerrejon, the country’s largest coal mine, to push for a 9 percent wage increase and improved health benefits, said Alvaro Frias, a spokesman for the National Coal Industry Workers Union, known as Sintracarbon. Union workers, who vote in blocks, will finish casting ballots Jan. 29, he said from Riohacha, Colombia, near the mine.

“The strike will be indefinite, until the company makes an offer that satisfies workers’ needs,” Frias said today in a telephone interview.

The mine is investing $1.3 billion to boost output to 40 million tons by 2014, International Relations Manager Carlos Franco said in a Nov. 6 interview. Cerrejon produced 34.6 million tons of coal in 2012, the company said Jan. 4 in a statement on its website.

Juan Carlos Restrepo, a Cerrejon spokesman, didn’t immediately return telephone calls and an e-mail seeking comment. The union is also demanding the company provide better compensation for communities forced to move as the mine expands, according to its website.

The benchmark price for hard coking coal in the first quarter is $165 a ton, down 3 percent from the fourth quarter and the lowest since $129 a ton in 2009, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Thermal coal for 2014 delivery to Amsterdam, Rotterdam or Antwerp traded at $99 a metric ton today, according to broker data compiled by Bloomberg.

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