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UPDATE 2-Colombian coal mine Cerrejon's largest union votes to strike

(Includes comment from Cerrejon, quote from union president)

BOGOTA, Aug 20 (Reuters) - The largest workers union at Colombian coal mine Cerrejon said on Thursday its members voted overwhelmingly in support of strike action after contract negotiations between the two parties collapsed.

Some 99% of votes were cast in favor of strike action, the Sintracarbon union said, after extended talks over contract negotiations ended without agreement almost two weeks ago.

Despite the decision, Sintracarbon wants to continue talks in search of an agreement said union president, Igor Diaz, who requested the involvement of Colombia’s labor ministry.

“We are willing to hold talks as long as necessary, to look at possibilities,” Díaz said in a virtual press conference.

Cerrejon, which is owned equally by BHP Group, Anglo American and Glencore, said it respected the decision by workers but called on the union and workers to re-examine the offer.

“The company...reiterates its willingness to build an agreement based on the offer presented,” Cerrejon said in a statement.

Sintracarbon had demanded a 6% salary increase in addition to health, education and housing benefits. Cerrejon offered an increase equal to inflation for 2020 and 2021.

Colombia had 3.80% inflation in 2019. The central bank expects inflation to end this year between 1% and 2%.

The union accuses Cerrejon of looking to cut costs by freezing, reducing and eliminating employee benefits.

Cerrejon employs more than 5,500 workers, including 4,600 union members.

Sintracarbon had previously threatened job action this year. In March, it pulled back from launching a pre-approved strike and withdrew demands regarding pay raises and other benefits.

The last strike at Cerrejon in February 2013 lasted 32 days.

Last year, coal prices fell to an average of $51.40 per tonne from $82.50 in the previous year, according to Colombia’s energy ministry.

The Andean country is the world’s fifth-largest coal exporter. The fuel is its second top source of foreign exchange after oil.

Sintracarbon now has 10 working days to begin the strike.

Reporting by Luis Jaime Acosta, Julia Symmes Cobb and Oliver Griffin; Editing by Sandra Maler and Aurora Ellis

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