The union representing Canberra's garbage truck drivers has accused their employer of "taking advantage of the pandemic" as workers walked off the job on Monday.
Transport Workers' Union ACT branch secretary Klaus Pinkas said negotiations with ACT government contractor SUEZ had stalled after more than five months of discussion over pay increases and conditions.
However, SUEZ argues the wage increases proposed over the next three years were reasonable, "given the current economic circumstances in Australia".
Mr Pinkas said SUEZ had used the coronavirus pandemic as an excuse not to commit to giving workers a pay increase of 12 per cent over the next three and a half years, rather offering up an 8 per cent jump.
"SUEZ, which are a large multi-national, have tried to take advantage of the COVID situation, to say [they] can't pay the increases they would normally pay because of the pandemic," Mr Pinkas said.
He argued the company's profit from its $180 million contract with the ACT government hadn't changed due to the pandemic.
A SUEZ spokesman said workers had been offered a "fair and reasonable" wage increase of 2 per cent in April 2021, 3 per cent in April 2022 and 3 per cent in April 2023.
"SUEZ has had to take measures to limit the impact of the recession and COVID-19 to ensure we have an economically sustainable business for the long term," a statement read.
"Examples of these measures include all of SUEZ's salaried employees not receiving a salary increase in 2020. Many of these salaried employees have also taken reduced hours during the pandemic."
Mr Pinkas said workers also held concerns about the contractor's "poor safety record" and "slow reaction" to disciplinary issues.
"There's an issue around how they deal with discipline and warning letter process so we're after time limits on that," he said.
"They've got a very poor [human resources] department and they take a long time to deal with things."
He said there was also a dispute over the worker's second rest break which had previously been paid and has since been stripped away.
SUEZ would not comment on workers' conditions and did not respond to specific questions from The Canberra Times.
A union delegate, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said it was likely workers would walk off the job again.
"Hopefully not. This is the last thing we want to do, we don't want to put the public out," he said.
"But at the same time, we've got to protect our rights. And this is the only way we can do it if we're not being heard."
Rubbish bins in 23 southern suburbs remained on the curb on Monday as a result of the industrial action.
Transport Canberra and City Services said collection would not be caught up later as it would cause too much disruption to other suburbs.