CARACAS, July 11 (Reuters) - Contractor Dimantec, which employees around 3,500 mechanics to service machinery at Colombia's largest coal mines, said it is planning to meet with union representatives in a bid to end an unlimited strike that entered a third day on Friday.
If the stoppage drags on, it could disrupt mines in Colombia, the world's fourth-biggest coal exporter, whose biggest operators include joint venture Cerrejon and U.S.-based Drummond. It also affects Colombia's Cerro Matoso nickel mine, one of the world's largest.
Drummond has said it would not comment on the situation or its potential impact, and representatives at Cerrejon have been unreachable since the strike began. An employee contacted at its mine on Thursday afternoon said the site was operating normally.
Dimantec sales manager Oscar Palacios told Reuters on Friday that the mining companies had the contractual right to hire mechanics elsewhere during the stoppage to avoid disruption, which should make it easier to keep mines and ports running for now.
He said Dimantec, union representatives and the Labor Ministry have been in frequent contact during the week to plan further formal negotiations after a previous round ended without agreement and a union vote in favor of strike action.
Palacios said it was possible that negotiations would begin by Friday afternoon if the necessary conditions were met.
"They have to leave the work place for us to begin talks and in some places they haven't done that," Palacios said.
Dimantec provides mechanics to Cerrejon -- owned jointly by Anglo American Plc, BHP Billiton and Glencore Xstrata Plc -- and to Drummond. It also has contracts with Prodeco, owned by Glencore Xstrata, and BHP Billiton's Cerro Matoso nickel mine.
Representatives at BHP Billiton's Colombia office could not be reached immediately for comment.
Colombia's coal sector has faced recurrent disruptions since late 2012 with strikes at Cerrejon and Drummond that lasted for weeks, plus a host of logistics problems this year and last that have hampered exports.
Coal prices in Europe, where Colombia is an important supplier to power generators, have been unmoved by news of the stoppage due to mild weather and stockpiles, with contracts for September delivery slipping $1.30 on Thursday to $72.50 per tonne. (Reporting by Peter Murphy; Editing by Leslie Adler)