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Unions suspend strikes at Australia's biggest sugar maker as pay talks resume

CANBERRA, June 13 (Reuters) - Unions have temporarily suspended industrial action at mills run by Australia's largest sugar producer as negotiations over worker pay resume, the company and a union official said.

Strikes over the last month have delayed and disrupted the start of operations at mills run by Wilmar Sugar and Renewables on Australia's hot and humid northeast coast.

Wilmar told union delegates at a meeting on Thursday it was willing to improve its pay offer and the unions agreed to pause their industrial action, a spokesperson for the company said.

"We've suspended industrial action for the time being," said Australian Workers' Union official Jim Wilson, adding that strikes could resume if no progress was made.

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Wilmar is in the process of starting up its eight mills for the cane crushing season, during which they will run 24 hours a day until the rainy season arrives around November.

Strikes during the crushing season are much more disruptive than during the preparation and maintenance period that precedes it.

Wilmar opened its first mill on Monday only to close it again for most of the day on Wednesday when workers said they would walk off the job for an hour.

Workers voted earlier this week to reject a company pay offer.

Wilmar Sugar and Renewables produces over 2 million metric tons of sugar - worth around $1 billion - a year. It is owned by Singapore's Wilmar International WLIL.SI.

A lengthy period of strikes would threaten Australian sugar production and exports by shortening the amount of time available to process cane before rains halt harvesting.

(Reporting by Peter Hobson Editing by Ros Russell)