Colombian coal miners’ strike risks Glencore operation

Following a series of recent protests and other problems affecting mining companies with operations in Colombia, coal workers for the local unit of Glencore International (LON:GLEN) went on strike late Thursday, reports local newspaper El Colombiano.

The stoppage has halted production at all of Glencore's mines, including the main La Jagua operations, in the northern state of Cesar. Glencore's mines accounted for nearly 15% of the 87 million metric tons of coal the South American country produced last year.

According to El Colombiano, the closure of La Jagua it is unlikely to affect thermal coal prices in Europe or Asia unless it stretches for several weeks. However, says the paper, workers at the Atlantic-Fenoco coal railway may join Glencore’s miners in the following days, which will make the problem a major issue for the Colombian coal industry.

"Nothing's being produced. Everything is down," told El Colombia Ricardo Macahdo, a member of the Sintramienergetica union.  The coalition had been threatening to strike for weeks if agreements couldn't be reached with the company.

In November, Glencore was affected by a weeklong stoppage at its Las Calenturitas coal mine, which didn't have substantial impacts on the mine's coal output.

Strikes in Colombia can last up to 60 days. After that, the law requires binding arbitration to take place.

Once tinted by drug cartels and civil war, Colombia has recently become one of Latin America’s fastest growing markets and, according to the World Bank, the most secure country in the region in which to do business. But current labour disputes in the coal and oil industry threaten the nation’s reputation.

The South American country is among the world's top coal exporters, with Glencore and other large mining companies such as Anglo American (LON:ANGLO) and BHP (NYSE:BHP) leading production of the fossil fuel.