A strike at Glencore’s Colombian coal mine La Jagua continued on Tuesday after a regional court issued a resolution declaring the walkout legal.
The strike to demand higher wages and better working conditions started on July 19 in Colombia, the world’s fourth-largest coal exporter, after 40 days of talks between the union and Glencore’s unit Prodeco failed to produce a deal.
“Given what has happened we’ll continue the strike,” the head of the Sintraminergetica Ricardo Machado union told Reuters, referring to a resolution by a regional court in the northern town of Valledupar declaring the walkout as legal.
Machado said union leaders are keen to negotiate with company executives, but Glencore has accused the union of being inflexible and “demanding too much.”
So far workers have been protesting for 41 days, and Machado said that if the strike continues for more than 60 days, the government will have to set up a settlement committee that will be given three days to help the parties reach a deal.
If they fail to come to an agreement in that period, the labor ministry will have to convene an arbitration tribunal to sort out the labor dispute.
The La Jagua complex is an open-pit mine in Colombia’s main coal-producing province of Cesar, which includes mining concessions held by separate Glencore companies – Carbones de La Jagua, Consorcio Minero Unido and Carbones el Tesoro.
The three areas produced 7 million tonnes of coal last year, according to mining regulator data.
La Jagua’s coal is the highest quality produced in Colombia and when not blended is a niche market material, industry sources said. The mine produces such high-energy, low-sulphur coal that it often is sold as pulverized coal for use in steelmaking.
Glencore’s Prodeco operations consist of La Jagua and Calenturitas. It has its own port and rail facilities.
In 2010, La Jagua workers went on strike for five weeks before signing a two-year deal, and in 2011, they walked out for eight days at the 5-million-tonne-per-year Calenturitas mine.
Colombia’s coal industry was hit last month by a strike at Fenoco, the country’s main coal railway, that paralyzed exports from the Cesar region for nearly a month.
The union had to end the strike after Fenoco won a vote in which more than 50 percent of workers agreed to lift the strike, and because a court declared the walkout illegal.
Latin America has a history of tense ties among mining companies, unions, indigenous people and environmental groups.
Unions use strikes for leverage in bargaining talks with mining and oil companies, which have been returning to Colombia after a fall in guerrilla violence over the last decade due to a U.S.-backed military offensive.
Traders told Reuters last month that concerns over future global demand and prices mean the impact of supply disruptions in Colombia from the La Jagua strike and the Fenoco walkout would probably be fairly muted.
Both the Atlantic and Pacific markets are over supplied despite a strong coal burn across much of Europe and steady imports by India and China.