August 6, 2008 / 12:50 AM / 9 years ago

Steelworkers, Potash Corp meet with labor mediator

WINNIPEG, Manitoba (Reuters) - A mediator has started meeting with Potash Corp of Saskatchewan and the United Steelworkers union to help resolve a contract dispute at three of the fertilizer giant’s Canadian potash mines, spokesmen for the union and company said on Tuesday.

Mediator Vic Pathe met Potash Corp officials on Monday and was slated to speak with union negotiators on Tuesday, said Roger Falconer of the United Steelworkers.

The 500 workers at the Saskatchewan mines have been in a legal strike position since July 25 after they rejected a new contract offer from the company. The union has said workers want a bigger share of the record profits of Potash Corp, the world’s largest fertilizer company.

“I suspect that the mediator will probably take the next two to three days, as long as things are doing reasonably well, and we should have a clearer idea by Thursday or Friday whether mediation is going to work or not,” Falconer said.

Pathe’s recommendations will not be binding. But the company is hopeful his involvement will lead to a negotiated settlement, said Bill Johnson, a spokesman for Potash Corp.

“He’s asked that the two sides be available to begin what I guess you’d call the formal mediation process this afternoon,” Johnson said.

“At this stage, we have no idea how long this mediation process will carry on,” Johnson said.

Potash Corp has ridden high on strong demand and skyrocketing fertilizer prices as a world shortage of grain boosts farmers’ returns to record levels.

Workers held a one-day picket at one mine last week, but resumed working all but overtime hours after the union and the company resumed talks.

Potash stock was down 12 percent or C$25.01 at C$181.98 at midday on Tuesday on the Toronto Stock Exchange, a three-month low, following a selloff in commodities that began on Monday, when most Canadian markets were closed for a holiday.

($1=$1.04 Canadian)

Reporting by Roberta Rampton; Editing by Peter Galloway

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