* Yes vote on industrial action opens door to strike
* Vote will not necessarily lead to industrial action
* Talks planned through at least end-July to avert strike (Adds details)
By James Regan
SYDNEY, June 3 (Reuters) - Miners at Australia's BHP Billiton Mitsubishi Alliance (BMA), the world's biggest exporter of metallurgical coal, voted in favour of the right to take industrial action but gave no indication that they were preparing to strike.
A stoppage would hit BHP Billiton just as Australia's coal mining sector, which supplies nearly two-thirds of the world's traded steel-making coal and more than 10 percent of the country's goods exports, was getting back on its feet after heavy summer rains hobbled operations at dozens of collieries.
It was unlikely that the mine workers representing around two-thirds of BMA's workforce would lay down their tools immediately, with BHP saying meetings with unions are scheduled until the end of July.
Union officials have repeatedly held out the possibility of a strike only as a last resort if talks with the alliance broke down. It's been more than a decade since there was industrial action at BMA mines.
The vote does give 4,000 employees at BMA's coal mines in Australia's Queensland state the right to consider industrial action against the BHP-Mistubishi joint venture.
Coal miners have complained about different pay levels for union workers and non-union contractors and are worried over job security, according to Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union Queensland district vice-president Steve Pierce.
"BMA is continuing to meet with unions to complete negotiations around the remaining points of a new agreement," a BHP Billiton spokeswoman told Reuters.
"We continue to make solid progress and as such, industrial action would be premature," she said.
Any disruptions could also have adverse implications for the Australian economy.
The country's overall metallurgical coal exports accounted for A$24.5 billion of Australia's A$202.17 billion in total goods exports last year, according to government data. Only iron ore contributes more in export revenue.
Australia is the world's biggest exporter of coking coal and BMA's mines, which have a combined production capacity of more than 58 million tonnes per year, account for about a fifth of the global trade and a third of Australia's exports.
BMA and the unions have scheduled meetings through to the end of July to discuss demands, which include higher wages and assurances over job security, the spokeswoman added.
The talks focus on six of the seven mines operated by the alliance.
Its three-million-tonnes-per-year capacity Broadmeadow colliery already holds a separate agreement with the alliance and was not part of the vote, according to BHP Billiton.
Industrial action at the mines could set back recovery efforts at Australian coal mines already hard-hit by natural disasters earlier this year.
Queensland state lost up to 30 million tonnes of coal production when monsoon rains and a cyclone battered the eastern seaboard between November and February, exacting a high financial toll on the national economy.
The drop, equivalent to 15 percent of annual output, has curbed economic growth and exacerbated a worldwide shortfall of coal. (Additional reporting by Ian Chua; Editing by Michael Urquhart, sourced Thomson Reuters)