Colombian coal workers back on the job pushed by controversial ruling

About 10,000 direct and indirect Colombian employees of US-based Drummond have returned to work after a divisive ruling by a government arbitration tribunal brought a temporary end to nearly two months of labour strikes over wages.

The workers received Friday a notification from a committee summoned by the Colombian Ministry of Labour, saying they had 72 hours to end the strike or otherwise face the consequences.

The company’s largest union — Sintramienergetica— told Colombia Reports the government’s decision was “the latest in a series of troubling irregularities and gross violations of labour rights intended to strip [the union], and by extension unions across Colombia, of their most basic legal protections and bargaining power”.

Drumond, the second-largest coal producer in Colombia, saw its operations affected last year, when a railway strike prevented stock from leaving mining sites.

Despite the challenges, the company generated 26 million metric tons last year, about one third of the country’s total.

Coal is Colombia’s main export after oil, with the government losing an estimated $850,000 in royalties for each day of the strike, according to the national mining agency.

The country’s industry was hit by strikes and clashes between coal companies and unions earlier this year. In February, workers at Drummond’s rival coal miner, Cerrejón, walked out after months of negotiations.

Cerrejón, a consortium owned by BHP Billiton Ltd. (ASX: BHP)(LON: BHP)(NYSE: BHP), Glencore Xstrata Plc (LON:GLEN) and Anglo American (LON:AAL) was forced to declare force majeure on many of its cargoes. Negotiations ended with a 5.1% salary increase.