Colombia's Drummond coal workers demand monthly wages, benefits

BOGOTA, April 17 Wed Apr 17, 2013 8:02pm BST

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BOGOTA, April 17 (Reuters) - A coal union at Drummond's Colombian unit has finished drafting a three-year labor proposal and demanded workers get a monthly wage, improved safety conditions and better health benefits, a union leader said on Wednesday.

Luis Manuel Mendoza said the union will present the demands to the company before April 30 and that the parties could reach an agreement within 20 days.

Drummond is Colombia's second largest coal miner and last year produced 26 million tonnes, almost one-third of all the coal produced in the Andean country. A new contract would cover 4,980 workers in Colombia, Mendoza said.

"Almost 90 percent of Drummond's workers are paid by the hour. We want the company to pay all workers a monthly salary," said union leader Luis Manuel Mendoza.

He said the workers want Drummond to pay workers a monthly wage that will be in line with their hourly wages, indicating they will be earning the same amount of money. He declined to give a reason for being paid monthly.

"We don't think that this will imply a higher expense for the company."

He said the union is also demanding improved health benefits and improved mine safety.

"We hope to reach an agreement in 10 or 15 days ... but it will all depend on the company's willingness to negotiate," Mendoza said.

Drummond did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment.

Workers at Colombia's largest coal producer, Cerrejon, walked off the job for more than a month in February, demanding better wages and benefits and forcing the company to declare force majeure on some cargoes.

Weeks of difficult negotiations led to the signing of a three-year agreement last month, but because of the length of the strike, Cerrejon said it will be unable to reach its 2013 production goal of 34 million tonnes.

Cerrejon, owned by Anglo American Plc, BHP Billiton Ltd and Xstrata Plc, is one of Colombia's top companies and its mine in Guajira province is one of the world's largest open-pit operations.

The Cerrejon strike was the last major supply problem remaining in Colombia, the world's No. 4 coal exporter.

Colombia's environmental regulator lifted a month-long suspension in March on Drummond's port following an incident, and a ban on overnight trains at the country's main coal railway over noise concerns.

Coffee growers and truck drivers also halted work and blocked roads earlier this year to demand more government subsidies and lower fuel costs.

The string of labor disputes likely affected the nation's economic growth in the first quarter, the finance ministry said last week.

The majority of Colombia's coal goes to the United States and Europe, but the industry has increasingly looked to diversify into Latin America and Asia.

Colombian coal exports fell 4.7 percent in 2012 to 77.4 million tonnes from 81.2 million tonnes in 2011, hit by labor disputes while the value of coal shipments dropped 7 percent to $7.8 billion.

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