Canberra garbage truck drivers could earn on average more than $120,000 if they receive the 12 per cent pay rise they have been battling for, as another strike looms next week.
Drivers could walk off the job a fourth time after they rejected the latest offer from ACT government contractor Suez on Wednesday, turning down an 8.3 per cent deal over three and a half years.
One driver, who wanted to remain anonymous, said the six-month stand-off was "more than a pay dispute" and claimed a "toxic culture problem" and "animosity" with management had fuelled drivers resolve to improve conditions.
"It's quite clear given the circumstances of the economy with COVID, this is clearly not just a pay dispute," he said.
Suez say the drivers' pay demands are "unfair and unreasonable" and would be out of step with increases across the company, due to the economic fallout of the pandemic.
When ACT workers walked off the job in 2016, then Suez ACT manager Jason Stewart, said drivers were paid "well above award", getting on average $95,000 with many paid more than $100,000 per year.
The drivers take home pay is significantly higher than their hourly rate of $37.28 due to overtime.
Drivers pocketed a 3.4 per cent pay rise each of the past four years which, based on the 2016 figure, would leave many with an average of $108,000 per year.
If drivers received the further 12 per cent in the next three years that would increase to more than $122,000, based on drivers doing the same number of overtime hours.
On the 8 per cent increase proposed, the average would drop to around $117,000.
The driver accepted he and his colleagues were well paid for the work they do, but argued less people are willing to take the job on a lower wage in the ACT than other regions.
"We have no option but to work every single public holiday," he said.
"We get paid overtime for that but there's only two days a year we don't work and that's Good Friday and Christmas Day. To make up for those two days we have to work the Saturday.
"We're an essential service so irrelevant of the bushfire smoke or anything like that we have to be out there."
The driver said workers had raised culture issues with the company prior to EBA negotiations but the issues hadn't been resolved.
A Suez spokesman didn't answer specific questions. In a statement, he said processes were in place to address employee concerns.
"Our ACT waste collection drivers, like all employees across Suez, have access to these avenues, which include raising any issue directly with the employee's manager in a confidential discussion," he said.
"Every issue raised through this process are dealt with in accordance with established protocols."
During EBA discussions, workers called for change to warning letter systems, which Suez ACT manager Paul Haslam has agreed needed to be adapted.
Drivers also called for a paid second break when working more than 10 hours, which Suez are not legally required to pay.
Transport Workers' Union ACT sub-branch secretary Klaus Pinkas said drivers would consider walking off the job again next week, but planned action on Friday would not go ahead.
As four days notice must be given, workers can't strike before Wednesday.
"We will continue talking to the company. The drivers said they may take industrial action depending on the outcome of the talks," Mr Pinkas said.
"An outcome will be reached eventually and we'll keep negotiating with the company."
Mr Pinkas hoped the plight of ACT workers would give momentum for others in the industry to push for higher wages.
"It's a good thing that essential workers are paid well," Mr Pinkas said.
"Low wages in the Australian economy are a problem and it's interesting when people try to do something about it they are called all sorts of things."