Coal Miners at BHP’s Colombia Unit Lower Wage Demand Amid Strike

Striking coal miners at BHP Billiton Ltd.’s Cerrejon joint venture with Xstrata Plc and Anglo American Plc in Colombia lowered demands for a wage increase as the mine considers seeking arbitration.

The workers, who walked off the job at the mine on Feb. 7, are pushing for a 5.8 percent increase, down from 7 percent previously, said Marlon Gomez, a negotiator for the National Coal Industry Workers Union, known as Sintracarbon. Melbourne-based BHP, Zug, Switzerland-based Xstrata and London-based Anglo, which each own 33 percent of Cerrejon, are offering 5.1 percent, he said.

“The union has shown a will to continue dialog to end the strike,” Gomez said in a telephone interview from La Guajira province where Cerrejon is located. “The Labor Ministry is willing for both parties to sit down together, because since we started the strike, we’ve had no other contact.”

Cerrejon, the world’s largest export-focused, open-pit coal mine, produced 34.6 million tons last year, according to its website. Along with Drummond Co., whose loading license was suspended last week, it accounted for 80 percent of Colombia’s coal exports of about 75 million metric tons in 2011, according to the World Coal Association.

Cerrejon will seek a solution from an arbitration panel if no “realistic” agreement is reached or talks continue, Cerrejon spokesman Juan Carlos Restrepo said in an e-mailed reply to questions.

Thermal coal for 2014 delivery to Amsterdam, Rotterdam or Antwerp fell 0.6 percent to $98.90 a ton today. The benchmark price for hard-coking coal in the first quarter is $165 a ton, down 2.9 percent from the fourth quarter and the lowest since 2010, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

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