Woodside, unions remain at odds over wages at Australia's largest LNG facility

(Reuters) - Woodside Energy said "positive progress" was being made on wage disputes at Australia's largest LNG facility even as a union alliance said key differences remained ahead of further talks next Wednesday.

Woodside's North West Shelf, along with Chevron's Australian LNG operations of Gorgon and Wheatstone, supply about 10% of the global LNG market.

About 99% of workers at offshore platforms that supply gas to the Woodside facility have voted to authorize the union to take industrial action, with any strike potentially disrupting shipments and sending prices for the super-chilled fuel higher.

After the vote, the union can decide whether to go ahead with any action, which must take place within 30 days.

"Positive progress is being made and the parties have reached an in-principle agreement on a number of issues that are key to the workforce," a Woodside spokesperson said in an emailed statement, following a round of negotiations on Tuesday.

"We continue to engage actively and constructively in the bargaining process."

The Offshore Alliance, which combines the Maritime Union of Australia and Australian Workers' Union, however, said differences on key issues remained.

"Woodside are well off the pace on key bargaining issues including job security and remuneration," the union said in a message posted on Facebook on Wednesday.

European natural gas prices soared early on Wednesday after the union's public criticism of the Woodside management but have since pared gains in a volatile day of trading.

Europe's benchmark Dutch natural gas prices fell 1.34 euros to 38.51 euros ($42.08) per megawatt hour (MWh) by 0905 GMT, after rising to as much as 42.15 euros/MWh earlier in the morning, Refinitiv data showed.

The October contract was up 1.90 euros at 43.00 EUR/MWh, having traded as high as 45.80 euros/MWh earlier in the session.

Further talks between the unions and Woodside are scheduled for next Wednesday, according to a person with knowledge of the matter. They declined to be named as they were not authorized to speak to the media.

China and Japan are the top two buyers of Australian LNG, followed by South Korea and Taiwan.

Last week, Australia's labor regulator cleared the way for possible action by Chevron workers if they vote in favor of it. The Offshore Alliance said in a social media post on Tuesday that members at the Chevron sites would begin voting "over the next week".

Chevron did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment.

Possible industrial action could range from stopping work for 30 minutes to an all-out strike, and the unions have the final say on whether to carry out any action, even if members vote in favor of it, according to the regulator.

Employers must also be given seven days' notice ahead of any industrial action.

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