Coal miner Cerrejon and union give differing views on progress in negotiations

BOGOTA (Reuters) - Colombian coal mine Cerrejon and its largest union have made advances on 90% of issues at stake in contract negotiations, the company said on Wednesday, as a strike closes in on its sixtieth day.

The Sintracarbon union, which began the stoppage on Aug. 31, said in its own statement that “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed.”

Proposed changes in benefits, a new schedule referred to as the “death shift,” and job losses are the top sticking points in talks.

The company and the union have made “significant advances in the negotiation of 34 articles of the collective work contract (CCT),” Cerrejon said in a statement, which “represents a pre-agreement on 90%.”

The company, owned equally by BHP Group BHP.AX, Anglo American AAL.L and Glencore GLEN.L, said it has made offers regarding some of the final 10% of pending issues.

“Cerrejon proposed the possibility of abandoning its position of reducing and eliminating some items from the CCT, but still insists on some articles it rates as ‘non-pertinent,’” Sintracarbon said, adding it backed preserving the current contract with some adjustments.

The company has said the prospective shift change is key to keeping Cerrejon competitive amid low export figures and argued it should not be part of contract discussions.

“It is important to remember the shift change is one of the initiatives which is part of Cerrejon’s transformation plan, which must be implemented to assure the survival of the company,” the company said in its Wednesday statement.

The union says the shift will create health and safety risks and lead to 1,250 job cuts. The company has acknowledged up to 700 coming job losses.

Sintracarbon said on Wednesday a deal will not be possible unless Cerrejon opens discussion on the shift’s potential effect on workers.

An arbitration tribunal may eventually begin if no deal is reached, forcing an end to the strike, Cerrejon said.

New phases of potential negotiation begin after Friday, the 60-day mark.

Reporting by Julia Symmes Cobb in Bogota; Editing by Matthew Lewis