Industrial umpire scraps Svitzer lockout

The supply of Christmas goods won't be disrupted at Australian ports following a breakthrough in the industrial tribunal.

The Fair Work Commission has ordered a major tugboat operator to suspend its planned lockout of workers from ports across the country for six months.

The commission's full bench ruled a lockout by Danish-owned Svitzer would cause significant damage to the national economy and "endanger the welfare of the Australian population or part of it".

The umpire on Friday published an order suspending Svitzer's action for six months from 11am AEDT.

The order will also mean no party can take protected industrial action for the period of suspension.

Full reasons will be published at a later date.

Workplace Relations Minister Tony Burke said Svitzer's lockout would have done significant damage and it should be "ashamed of itself for its willingness to hold the economy to ransom".

"Australians can now have certainty the goods they rely on will be in stores and on shelves through Christmas and into next year," he said.

"However this is only a temporary solution. We urge both sides to return to the bargaining table, negotiate in good faith and get this done."

Svitzer had planned to lock out more than 580 workers indefinitely from Friday across 17 ports in NSW, Victoria, Queensland, Western Australia and South Australia.

In a statement, the company advised that the lockout "will not proceed and customers can return to planned shipping movements and recommence port operations".

Svitzer announced the lockout of tugboat workers in response to a number of strikes over the past month due to a three-year bargaining dispute.

Mr Burke said it was crucial the government's industrial relations bill passed, as it gave the commission a new pathway to resolving intractable disputes.

The bill is due to be debated in the Senate in the coming fortnight, having passed the lower house.

Maritime Union national secretary Paddy Crumlin said unions had sought to negotiate and bargain in good faith for almost four years.

"Tugboats are an essential link in the nation's supply chain which operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Their work is highly-skilled, often dangerous and crucially important to the prosperity and security of our nation," Mr Crumlin said.

"That's a responsibility that these workers and their families take very seriously and it's why the limited industrial action they had been taking was always low-impact, administrative action rather than lengthy work stoppages.

"So the proposed lockout by bosses was always a completely unreasonable and extreme overreaction by Svitzer and it couldn't be allowed to go ahead."

He said there was now an opportunity for the company to return to good faith bargaining, which should start with withdrawing an application to terminate the existing employment agreement and take the threat of a 47 per cent pay-cut off the table.