3,500 mechanics at Colombia’s biggest coals mines have reportedly gone on strike to demand better pay, health benefits, and education, reported news wire Reuters on Wednesday.
The striking mechanics are employed by Dimantec, a maintenance contractor working for mining giants Cerrejon and Drummond.
The mechanics, who went to strike indefinitely at 6AM July 9, are demanding a 12% salary increase, as well as health benefits, and improved housing and education.
The mechanics’ role is crucial to the smooth operation of the mines as their role is to maintain the heavy machinery used for coal extraction, said Sintraime mining union president Felix Herrera, quoted in a report from Reuters. The strike therefore has the potential to halt production in other areas of the mines.
Sources at Cerrejon and Drummond said that for the moment, the current mechanics’ strike has not impacted the mines’ activities of production and exportation.
Strikes threaten Colombia’s economy
If the strike is prolonged, it has the potential to greatly affect Colombia’s coal export industry which is already under intense scrutiny following allegations that multinational mining companies based in the South American country have been financing armed groups.
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Colombia is the forth largest coal producer in the world, producing 85.5 million tons of coal in 2013 alone, according to Reuters. Large-scale mining has been declared by Colombia’s President Juan Manuel Santos and ministers in his administration as the South American country’s engine of economic growth.
Mining is the second largest recipient of foreign direct investment after oil, constitutes nearly 7% of exports, and is 2.3% of Colombia’s GDP. Mining royalties is one of the Colombian government biggest sources of revenue.
Mining strikes have threatened Colombia’s economic output considerably in recent years. One of the most recent strikes involved a security firm blockading the Cerrejon coal mine in late June 2014.
MORE: Colombia security firm continues blockade of coal mine over contract dispute