Australia’s industrial relations tribunal has ordered three unions to suspend industrial action at the Queensland factories of Wilmar International for six weeks.

The Fair Work Commission said after hearing submissions from the unions and company, sugar major Wilmar will have “all of its eight factories crushing cane again this week, as soon as harvesting resumes in the wake of rain that drenched all its districts from Sarina in the south to Ingham in the north during the past week”.

The tribunal’s deputy president Theresa Dobson had been asked by Wilmar’s Australian arm to issue suspension orders after unions gave notice of their intention to mount a series of stoppages over coming weeks.

Since March 2023, Wilmar has been in talks with the Australian Workers’ Union (AWU), the Australian Metal Workers’ Union and the Electrical Trades Union to establish a new enterprise agreement.

Workers and their union representatives initially demanded a 28% increase in pay over three years.

According to the Singapore-based group, eight meetings took place between March and 8 May 2024 to negotiate a deal. Additional discussions also took place on 13 and 22 May, as well as on 15 May, when parties met with the deputy president of the independent Fair Work Commission to discuss progress.

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Employees from Wilmar‘s eight sugar plants in Australia rejected a more recent wage offer last month.

In a statement on Sunday (30 June), a Wilmar spokesperson said that the suspension of industrial action “relieves the immediate risk to the annual crushing season, and provides clear air for negotiations with unions on the enterprise agreement”.

The spokesperson added: “Everyone in the supply chain can now make the necessary preparations to get under way and begin making up for lost time.”

According to news agency Reuters, AWU official Jim Wilson said that unions will appeal the decision to suspend the strikes.

But he reportedly added that the Fair Work Commission was likely to extend its suspension order to prevent any further strikes and, if negotiations make no progress over the coming months, impose a pay deal on both sides.

Wilmar Sugar and Renewables, the Australian branch of Wilmar International, is the largest sugar producer for Australia and New Zealand.

Its consumer products include the Chelsea Sugar branded white sugar cubes, maple syrup and baking ingredients. The company also manufactures the CSR Sugar portfolio, which includes white, brown and caster sugars, golden syrup and treacle, as well as speciality sugars such as coconut and muscovado.

Last week Wilmar completed its public offer for shares in Unity Foods, a Pakistan-based manufacturer of edible oils and industrial fats, acquiring an additional stake through its units. The group raised its stake to 42.17% or 503.4 million shares.

The stake was increased through Wilmar’s wholly owned subsidiary Wilmar Pakistan Holdings (WPH) and Unity Wilmar Agro (UWA), which is 52% owned by WPH.

The share acquisition has increased WPH’s stake in UFL to 34.84% or 416 million shares and UWA’s to 14.08% or 168 million shares.