The 3000 workers keeping Sydney's drinking water and beaches clean have taken their first step towards strike action.
The workers' union says Sydney Water's management has pushed to slash pay and conditions and impose secretive, individualised, WorkChoices-style contracts on more than half of their employees.
Enterprise agreement negotiations broke down this week, leading the Australian Services Union to formally lodge a dispute with the Fair Work Commission on Thursday.
The agreement on offer would put workers behind every other private and public entity operating in the industry, the union says.
Deputy secretary Jan Primrose said the fact the Sydney Water managing director had not attended any enterprise agreement meetings gave a sense "of how bad things are."
"The relationship between the people who work at Sydney Water and senior management has never been worse," she said.
"Long-term skilled workers are leaving, and morale is at an all-time low."
Sydney Water provides drinking water to about 5.3 million people across Sydney, the Blue Mountains and the Illawarra and provides wastewater and some stormwater services.
Along with sister utility Hunter Water, it was added to the NSW constitution after the Labor government warned they had to be protected from privatisation.
The state-owned water provider said it had been bargaining in good faith, had offered a wage increase of 11 per cent over three years and agreed to "a number" of the workers' claims.
"With an additional meeting scheduled for next week, we're hopeful that an agreement may have been reached," a spokeswoman said.
As Sydney Water is operated at arms-length from the government, Water Minister Rose Jackson has not been involved in negotiations.
But she said she expected all sides to come to the table to resolve the dispute.
"The work the Sydney Water team do is incredibly important; they are the people that strive to ensure we have access to safe and secure water," she told AAP.
A deadline also looms for the NSW government to resolve negotiations with public school teachers.
The NSW Teachers Federation has given the government until Monday to complete negotiations that began in the weeks after Labor was elected in March.
"With serious teacher shortages impacting students and teachers it's time those negotiations came to a close," federation president Angelo Gavrielatos said.
"If we don't pay teachers what they deserve, we can't get the teachers we need."
A spokesman for Education Minister Prue Car said negotiations to give teachers the pay and conditions they deserve were ongoing.
"We are confident of reaching an agreement that respects our hard-working teachers and ensures they remain in our classrooms doing what they do best," the spokesman told AAP.
The Minns government notched its first wages win last week after a deal for school support staff, prison officers and 80,000 other Public Service Association-aligned workers was formalised.
The government has offered all public sector workers a pay rise of four per cent, backdated to July 1.
Nurses and midwives began voting on that offer and some changes to conditions this week.
Australian Associated Press