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Colombia's national mining and energy union Sintramienergética has begun a strike at multinational coal producer Drummond's La Loma mine and shipping port.
The union decided to go ahead with the stoppage because it failed to reach an agreement with the company over the workers' list of demands, said union member Orlanda Acosta.
"At 6:00 am [Monday] the strike was declared. We are in proceedings and waiting for the labor ministry representative to arrive to seal off plant equipment and implement the contingency plan," he said.
The plan refers to the maintenance and protection of machinery equipment "to prevent unknown hands from doing something to the equipment that would make the strike illegal," he said.
Although a few days remained before the deadline expired to reach an agreement with the company, the union member said that workers voted for the strike because the available time would serve no purpose. "It already was time and there was no other option."
Sintramienergética represents workers at Drummond and also at the Carbones de la Jagua coal operations, where strikes have been going on for several days. Carbones de la Jagua is operated by Swiss commodities group Glencore International.
Some of the demands - presented jointly by workers from Carbones de la Jagua and Drummond - include more humane working conditions, the direct employment of subcontracted workers, wage increases and investment in charitable community works.
A Drummond press official said that the strike started at exactly 6:00 am, adding that the company would comment officially on the matter during the day.
In the mine and the port, Drummond has 2,900 direct and more than 5,000 indirect employees. A stoppage would affect mining activities, transport and coal exports.
Last year, US-based Drummond exported 22Mt and the goal for 2006 is 26Mt of coal from César department, where Santa Marta is located, BNamericas previously reported.