UPDATE 2-Workers at Colombia's Cerrejon coal mine vote in favor of strike
(Updates Cerrejon response)
BOGOTA, March 3 (Reuters) - Union workers at Colombia's largest coal mine, Cerrejon, have voted in favor of a strike, the union said on Thursday, in a dispute with the company over wages and benefits.
A strike at the Cerrejon mine, which produces 32 million tonnes of coal a year, or 37 percent of Colombia's total output, would come at an inopportune time for the country, which is experiencing a commodity-related economic slowdown.
"The workers voted to declare the strike," Sintracarbon union leader Jairo Quiroz said in a phone interview. "In the next 10 days, we will decide the start date."
Cerrejon is a joint venture between Australia-based BHP Billiton Ltd , London- and Johannesburg-based Anglo American Plc and Swiss-based Glencore Xstrata . It has been producing coal in Colombia since the mid-1980s under a concession that runs until 2033.
Colombia is the world's fifth largest coal exporter. The country's output fell 3.5 percent in 2015 to 85.5 million tonnes.
The vote came after a 40-day period of direct negotiations ended without an agreement. The union and the company will meet again on Friday, Quiroz said.
A representative from Cerrejon said the vote did not necessarily mean a strike would take place and that it is important the two sides continue the negotiations during the 10-day period the union has to declare a start time.
The union represents 4,200 of the 10,000 workers at the mine, located in La Guajira province in northern Colombia. Continuación...