By Jack Kimball
BOGOTA, Feb 15 (Reuters) - Colombia’s largest coal exporter, Cerrejon, and its striking union will meet again on Saturday in search of a deal to end a week-long walkout by thousands of workers, the union said.
Laborers at Cerrejon, a joint venture between BHP Billiton , Anglo American and Xstrata, went on strike on Feb. 7, the first in two decades, after failing to reach an agreement over wages and benefits.
The two sides met for the first time since the strike on Friday in the northern Guajira province and decided to continue talks on Saturday, said Sintracarbon union president Igor Diaz.
The Labor Ministry mediated the talks between company and union officials. Negotiations will resume on Saturday at 9 a.m. (1400 GMT), Diaz said in a message on Twitter.
“I will bring from our organization every effort to seek an agreement, we expect the same attitude from the company,” he tweeted.
The last time Cerrejon had a strike was in the early 1990s. In 2011, laborers at Cerrejon voted to strike but reached a deal with the company before walking off the job.
Cerrejon produced 34.6 million tonnes of coal last year, 4 percent more than expected. It exported 32.8 million tonnes, 2.5 percent above its goal, in 2012.
“Cerrejon confirms its willingness to resume negotiations with Sintracarbon (union) to enable a new collective bargaining agreement 2013-2014 and put an end to a strike that has caused great harm,” the company said in a statement late on Thursday.
The strike has added to problems in the coal industry, which has been hit by a suspension at Drummond, the second-largest exporter, a night-time ban on coal transport at the main railway and a dispute at a mine owned by a Goldman Sachs affiliate.
In total, about 85 percent of Colombia’s daily coal production has been shut down as a result, according to calculations by Reuters and industry sources.