Territory and Municipal Services Minister Shane Rattenbury has appointed an external industrial relations expert to resolve the strike action launched by ACT garbage collectors.
Garbage collectors will strike on Wednesday and Thursday next week with more than 95 per cent of Transport Workers Union members supporting action after negotiations for a new collective agreement failed.
The independent expert, who has a background in union movements, was tasked by the ACT Government to “objectively sit down with all paying conditions and come up with a finding”.
“The findings of that independent expert was that drivers had commensurate pay and conditions as they did under the previous arrangement,” Mr Rattenbury said.
Mr Rattenbury said talk of a three-week strike - which occurred during the 1980s - was premature at this stage of the negotiations.
"I think we're very close to reaching an agreement here and I think what we're seeing is part of the push and shove that goes on," he said.
"The government has not been complacent with this, far from it. We've played a very active role in seeking to get parties to the table and get this resolved."
As it stands, large sections of Belconnen and Gungahlin will go without recycling and garbage collection services next week following the Easter long weekend.
Mr Rattenbury said Canberrans would be able to take their rubbish to recycling centres free of charge while the strike action continues.
TWU Canberra secretary Klaus Pinkas said the workers had not taken the decision to go on strike lightly, but they had been pushed to the limit.
"It's the people of the ACT who will suffer from this, which could have been resolved if [Territory and Municipal Services] and Sita had come to their senses," he said.
"The guys just won't let them get away with it."
ACT No Waste acting director David Roberts said his organisation had conducted “a serious analysis” of pay slips provided by the Transport Workers Union and did not believe the workers are worse off.
“They’re getting the same money if they don’t get the RDO apart from the meal allowances and the meal allowance is not a part of wages”
Mr Pinkas said staff wanted "exactly the same as what we had last year – no more no less – exactly the same".
He said Canberra's waste workers had been doing the same job over the same hours but earning between $100-150 less a week since the kerbside garbage contract changed hands in October 2013.
All collections are now run by Sita Australia Pty Ltd.
"No changes to the hours, no changes to the bins they're picking up, just a change to the amount of dollars," Mr Pinkas said.
"This is despite the commitment through Shane Rattenbury that no one would be worse off through that process.
"Hopefully this will get a reaction from Sita and we can get them to see sense. The guys are after what they had last year."
UnionsACT secretary Kim Sattler said their union held a meeting with TWU members employed with Sita in waste management on Thursday.
“Representatives from Sita and the ACT Government need to understand that bargaining in good faith does not mean giving in to all the employer’s claims,” he said.
“These workers deserve at least their existing real wages.”
Mr Pinkas said the garbage collectors would not accept anything less than what they had been paid under the previous contract and didn't rule out further strikes.
"I'm old enough to remember a garbage dispute in the '80s that went for three weeks," he said.
SITA Australia corporate affairs manager Luke Schepen said they believed their proposed agreement was fair and it was unfortunate it had come to this.
"SITA has been negotiating in good faith with the TWU for some time and we are extremely disappointed the union is contemplating this industrial action," he said.
"In our proposal employees will receive wages greater than what they were paid under the previous contractor along with conditions of employment that mirror those they were working under last year.
"Unfortunately the TWU action may disrupt essential services to ACT households and we will take all necessary action to minimise disruption."
Deputy Leader of the Opposition Alistair Coe said he hoped Mr Rattenbury would be able to resolve the issue before strike action is launched, but said failing that ratepayers could reasonably argue for a refund on their rates.
"Given the advance notice of the strike and the fact that the issues of concern have been known for some time, Shane Rattenbury should be working to resolve this matter before considerable disruption is caused to tens of thousands of Canberrans," he said.
In a statement, ACT NOWaste acting director David Roberts said the ACT government had believed the negotiations had been progressing well and encouraged both parties to reach an agreement as soon as possible.
He said the Mitchell and Mugga Resource Management Centres would be made available for free disposal of household waste and recyclables on all days of industrial action.
"Residents facing genuine hardship or requiring emergency household waste or recycling collection will also be able to contact Canberra Connect on 13 22 81," he said.
The suburbs missing out are Amaroo, Bonner, Cook, Crace, Dunlop, Forde, Gungahlin, Hawker, Higgins, Holt, Jacka, Latham, Macgregor, Macquarie, Moncrieff, Ngunnawal, Palmerston, Scullin and Weetangara.
A number of suburbs will also miss out on just their garbage collections next week, including Aranda, Belconnen, Bruce, Casey, Charnwood, Dunlop, Evatt, Florey, Flynn, Fraser, Fyshwick, Giralang, Hall, Kaleen, Lawson, McKellar, Melba, Nicholls, North Lyneham, Page and Spence.