Employees of Colombia’s largest coal mine, Cerrejón, went on strike yesterday after the company and its 4,500 union members failed to reach an agreement on wages and benefits for the first time in 22 years.
Orlando Cuello, manager of the National Union of Coal workers (Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadroes de la Industria del Carbón – Sintracarbón) confirmed that 3:00 pm (COT) Thursday was the cutoff time for the negotiations. The union’s grievances center on the lack of appropriate compensation for the high-risk nature of the job, with an estimate that miners in other parts of the world earn three times more than Cerrejón employees. Other factors in the negotiations include recognition of health and occupational hazards, dignity of employees, equity with contract workers, environmental protection of the department of La Guajira where the mine operates, and respect of local communities.
Cerrejón, the subject of a new AQ documentary, is a joint venture between BHP Billiton, Anglo American and Xstrata. It produced 34.6 million tons of coal and exported 32.8 million tons globally in 2012. The strike threatens the company’s potential production targets for 2013 and may damage the local and regional economy by up to $5.4 million a day.
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