Shippers have worked out a back-up plan to move Hong Kong cargo through ports in Guangdong with no end in sight to the Kwai Tsing dock strike.
The Hong Kong Shippers' Council also said Guangdong customs had agreed to speed up clearance of diverted shipments.
The move follows the visit by a joint delegation from the council and the Federation of Hong Kong Industries to the province earlier this week. Council chairman Willy Lin Sun-mo, whose group represents exporters, importers, traders and manufacturers, said: "Delayed shipments can result in huge business losses. That is why making sure the goods can be delivered in time is always our prime concern."
He said the flow of trade in next month's peak season could have been affected if a back-up plan had not been worked out.
Commenting on the strike, Lin said: "The workers can demand whatsoever they like. But [shippers] are not living in an ivory tower. We have obligations to our customers."
The pay dispute degenerated into a strike on March 28 and the number of strikers has grown from about 100 to more than 400.
Last night, hundreds of dockers and their supporters staged a rally outside the Cheung Kong Center in Central. Strikers have been camping there after talks earlier this week failed to break the deadlock.
Strike organiser Stanley Ho Wai-hong, of the Union of Hong Kong Dockers, said about 2,000 attended the rally.
Police, however, said 600 people attended the rally at the peak of the event.
The rally was attended by pan-democrat legislators Emily Lau Wai-hing, "Long Hair" Leung Kwok-hung and Raymond Chan Chi-chuen.
The Cheung Kong Center is owned by tycoon Li Ka-shing. The port operator, Hongkong International Terminals (HIT), is a unit of Li's Hutchison Port Holdings Trust. The strikers want him to force the subcontractors to give them a rise.
One contractor, Global Stevedoring Service, announced on Thursday it would close after its contract with HIT ends at the end of June.
Some of the Global workers yesterday claimed some other contractors had tried to poach them, but they vowed they would not back down until all their demands were satisfied.
A Global workers' representative, Chan Ka-kui, said: "Although our company announced it would close, it still has a responsibility to talk to us about salaries, benefits and occupational health issues. It is not closing today."
Chan said his fellow workers would not join other contractors for only a pay rise. They wanted all their demands, including benefits and occupational health conditions, to be met.
Dick Wong, of contractor Everbest Port Services, said the company could not afford the increase of at least 20 per cent sought by the strikers. "I doubt many companies in Hong Kong nowadays can afford to give a 20 per cent pay rise to staff," he said.
Meanwhile, the HIT Group Employees General Union, which represents about 300 dock workers directly hired by HIT, said last night it would call off its work-to-rule after the company agreed to improve overtime pay and the compensation day off system.
The union did not take part in the strike.