Colombian mining companies, including coal producers Cerrejon and Drummond, will reduce operations to slow the spread of coronavirus, the sector’s guild said on Tuesday.
Some 15,000 workers directly employed in the industry will stop working, as will 18,000 indirect workers, the Colombian Mining Association (ACM) said in a statement.
The Andean country will enter a nationwide 19-day quarantine late on Tuesday aimed at preventing further spread of coronavirus, which has killed more than 15,300 people worldwide.
Colombia has 306 confirmed infections and three deaths attributable to COVID-19.
Coal miner Drummond will temporarily reduce mining operations in the Cesar province, it said in a statement.
A contingency team will largely live on-site to avoid workers entering and leaving, Drummond said, adding the team will be protected by the highest standards of bio-safety.
“These workers will make sure we continue to meet environmental standards, that deterioration of the mine, equipment and infrastructure is avoided and that obligations for exporting coal are met,” the company said.
Colombia is the world’s fifth-biggest coal exporter and the fossil fuel is its second-largest generator of foreign currency after oil.
Cerrejon, which is owned equally by BHP Group, Anglo American and Glencore, will also reduce its operations in the country’s La Guajira province.
The company, which exported 26.3 million tonnes of coal in 2019, began the staggered reduction of its operations on Monday night, it said in a statement.
As with Drummond, a contingency team will ensure compliance with environmental rules, care for equipment and infrastructure, and make sure export obligations are met, Cerrejon said.
Neither company provided figures on their activity reductions.
Earlier in March members of Cerrejon unions Sintracarbon and Sintracerrejon voted for strike action over a dispute linked to pay and benefits.
The union has not yet set a date for the strike to begin.
A 2013 strike at Cerrejon lasted 32 days.
Cerrejon also controls a 150-kilometer (90-mile) rail line and a seaport which receives ships that can carry up to 180,000 tonnes of cargo.
Coal prices fell to an average of $51.40 per tonne last year, down from $82.50 per tonne in 2018, according to government.
(By Oliver Griffin and Luis Jaime Acosta; Editing by Andrea Ricci)