(Recasts with Cerrejon confirmation, adds byline)
By Peter Murphy
CARACAS, June 26 (Reuters) - Colombia’s biggest coal miner, Cerrejon, said late on Thursday it was transporting coal again from its mine to port after protesters ended a six-day blockade on its private railway line that took the company to the brink of defaulting on shipments.
The protesters who work as security guards at Cerrejon, had kept its 150-km (93-mile) railroad closed since Friday last week, angered by upcoming job losses from June 30 when the contract of their third-party employer, Sepecol, expires.
“The rail line was freed up, and with that transport of coal to Port Bolivar was immediately re-established,” Cerrejon said in a statement late on Thursday, thanking the government for helping establish dialogue with the demonstrators.
Cerrejon said it agreed to work jointly with the protesters to find “solutions” for security guards who would lose their jobs after current contracts for security provision expire, without providing specific details of what this might entail.
Its new contracts plan for 771 security guards, 80 percent of which would come from another security company, Vigil, whose contract continues and an unspecified number of guards from Sepecol who would be recruited by a rival security firm.
Cerrejon currently has up to 1,000 security guards protecting one of the world’s largest open pit coal mines.
It said on Wednesday it risked running out of coal at its sea port in one or two days and declaring force majeure on delivery contracts if the protest which began last Friday continued.
The company is a joint venture between Anglo American Plc , BHP Billiton and Glencore Xstrata Plc with an integrated mine, private railway and private port which have been operating since the mid-1980s.
Sepecol general manager Oscar Santiago Silva said his company lost out as the most expensive bidder for a new security contract because it was legally obliged to maintain worker benefits agreed to last year in a deal with unions. (Editing by Eric Walsh and Joseph Radford)