Colombia rail strike ends, coal ops may restart Friday

(Reuters) – Colombia’s main railway should resume moving coal to port on Friday after the union ended a 25-day strike that has paralyzed more than half of exports from the world’s fourth-largest coal exporter, officials said.

The privately held Fenoco railway scored two victories against the union this week by getting more than 50 percent of workers to agree to lift the strike and by having the walkout declared illegal in a Colombian court.

Sintraime union President Felix Herrera told Reuters the guild was lifting the walkout and that the process should be completed by 6 p.m. local time (2300 GMT) on Thursday.

Fenoco President Peter Burrowes told Reuters that he and five workers, five union members and two labor ministry officials had entered the firm’s offices in the coastal city of Santa Marta and were in the process of inspecting installations.

Once the inspection is completed, the rest of the railway’s laborers can go back to work, Burrowes said.

“Based on the delays by the union, we were unable to open our control tower hence we have not been able inspect the 200 km of rail,” he said from Santa Marta.

“Once we get in, we will do a physical inspection, even by night, and I calculate that by sometime in the middle of the afternoon of (Friday) we will have our trains circulating.”

More than 50 percent of the 624 workers at Fenoco railway cast ballots earlier this week to end the strike, while a Colombian court declared the strike illegal on Tuesday.

The union had called the poll illegal.

The walkout at Fenoco, which moves coal to port for Drummond International, Goldman Sachs affiliates and Glencore International Plc’s Prodeco unit, had caused limited force majeure on some shipments.

The labor dispute brought coal exports from the main producing province of Cesar to a halt and cost the government more than $1.2 million per day in royalties. As much as 4 million tonnes is estimated to have been lost from Colombia’s 2012 exports, according to industry sources.

Workers at Colombia’s La Jagua mine, owned by Glencore’s Prodeco unit, are still on strike after nearly a month, but Prodeco could start moving coal from the Calenturitas mine once the railway resumes normal operations.

The return of Fenoco workers could put more pressure for a resolution to the labor dispute at La Jagua mine, and possibly weaken the hand of the union in wage talks.

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