Stevedores DP World, Hutchison Ports and Patrick have sanctioned paid, four-hour stop-work meetings at the request of the Maritime Union of Australia so workers can attend Change The Rules rallies ahead of the next election.
The Australian Council of Trade Union is estimating 150,000 will attend the Melbourne rally, which is pressuring politicians to introduce industry-wide bargaining and strike rights and lift the minimum wage to 60 per cent of the median income.
DP World sent out a notice to shipping companies and transport operators late last week that said it would shut down between 9.30am and 2pm on Tuesday in Sydney and Melbourne.
In the case of Patrick, the stevedore is shutting down its Port Botany operations for eight hours as it uses the rallies as an opportunity to conduct maintenance work.
However the companies claim the disruption, despite taking place during peak season, will have minimal impact on exports or imports.
EA clause pays for work stoppages
A spokeswoman for DP World told The Australian Financial Review that "employees may exercise their right to attend the rallies, using one of their sanctioned stop work meetings".
"We have prepared for this and expect minimal impact on our terminal operations. We have advised customers to this effect."
DP World's enterprise agreement, like other union agreements in the industry, allows the MUA to hold union meetings off site for up to four hours twice a year, "without loss of pay".
The "union meeting" clause says the company recognises that "employees have a right ... to participate in the affairs of the union" and that employees "recognise their obligation to minimise disruption to company operations in so doing".
A spokeswoman said "there are a limited number of authorised meetings as a part of our enterprise agreement".
"DP World will not be granting or agreeing to any additional meetings that might be requested as a result of the use of an allocated meeting on this occasion," she said.
A spokesman for Patrick said the company was "suspending operations in Port Botany for eight hours in order to conduct yard works and to repair damage sustained in storms over the weekend".
"This is an efficient approach for us," he said.
He said workers rostered on for Tuesday would work the first four hours, but leave for the protest march where they will get paid four hours as per the EA.
Only Victorian International Container Terminal (VICT), which operates the Webb Dock terminal at the Port of Melbourne, said it did not expect its employees to stop work.
'Bad time' for importers
Freight & Trade Alliance secretary Travis Brooks-Garrett said the stoppages could lead to extra costs for importers and exporters if they caused delays.
"The stop work has come at a bad time for Australian importers who are in the middle of peak season and are experiencing major delays due to new biosecurity measures," he said.
"We're also concerned regarding possible extra costs in container detention and demurrage, where importers and exporters can't return or collect containers during that time."
The Sydney and Melbourne rallies will take place alongside protests at other regional cities, including Wollongong, Cairns and Darwin, and will be followed by rallies at Canberra and Brisbane on November 20.
ACTU secretary Sally McManus said "this political protest is aimed at making Scott Morrison and federal politicians listen".
"Our wages are going backwards, families are struggling, too many people are stuck in insecure work," she said. 'We need to bring back balance to the system so working people get fair pay rises."