Colombia Coal Miners Seek More Wage Talks as Negotiations Fail

Striking coal miners at BHP Billiton Ltd.’s Cerrejon joint venture with Xstrata Plc and Anglo American Plc in Colombia will seek further negotiations after government-brokered talks broke down, a union leader said.

The workers, who downed tools at the mine on Feb. 7 to push for higher wages and improved health benefits, prefer a negotiated settlement to an arbitration panel, said Igor Diaz, president of coal workers union Sintracarbon. Company and union officials were unable to agree on a time limit for wage talks, Cerrejon said in a statement yesterday.

“If there are clear offers, we’ll accept the accord and present it to the workers,” Diaz said today on a webcast press conference from near the mine at Riohacha, Colombia. “We ask that someone who can make decisions comes to the table, which hasn’t occurred.”

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 Feb. 6, it accounted for 80 percent of Colombia’s coal exports of about 75 million metric tons in 2011, according to the World Coal Association.

Juan Carlos Restrepo, a Cerrejon spokesman, didn’t immediately return a telephone call and an e-mail seeking comment. The company will seek arbitration if no “realistic” agreement is reached or talks continue, he said in an e-mail Feb. 14..

Thermal coal for 2014 delivery to Amsterdam, Rotterdam or Antwerp rose for the first session in six today, gaining 0.5 percent to $99 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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