Icon Water union members will take protected industrial action tomorrow (31 August) for the first time in “living memory”.
The Electrical Trades Union NSW/ACT Branch (ETU) has called on the ACT Government to intervene as negotiations for a wage increase have stalled.
Branch organiser Matt McCann said this would be the first of many disruptions if Icon Water failed to provide a “decent offer”.
“The cost of living is surging in Canberra. Rent is up 9 per cent, mortgage interest rates have doubled and petrol continues to hover around $2 a litre,” he said.
“Icon workers are being smashed by higher living costs.”
Negotiations have been ongoing since April, with the ETU asking for a 5 per cent increase per annum for three years.
Mr McCann said they considered that increase “fair and reasonable”.
“At the time, it looked like that was ahead of inflation, but as we know, inflation is now spiralling upwards,” he said.
“These workers are not trying to get rich, they just want a deal that stops them going backwards.”
He said workers were frustrated Icon had offered 3 per cent a year over four years and hadn’t budged since.
“We had genuinely made good and significant improvements when discussing changes to clauses in the workplace agreement, but when it came to pay, we’ve hit a brick wall,” Mr McCann said.
“We’ve tried to offer compromises but they’re not listening.”
The stop work tomorrow will last two hours from 8:30 am, and members will take part in a mass Zoom meeting with union representatives to discuss further options.
Mr McCann said additional action wasn’t off the table.
“Part of the meeting will be to endorse further action, such as partial work bans that could disrupt Icon’s internal workings,” he said.
“It won’t impact the community unless something goes wrong … our frontline members do have a strong sense of community, so if anything went horribly wrong, they would step up.
“[Icon Water workers] are the ones making sure the water flows forward and the other stuff flows the other way. They couldn’t work from home during the pandemic. They were still out there … we think they deserve a bit of a reward for their efforts during the pandemic.”
Mr McCann also hoped the ACT Government, which owns Icon Water, would intervene.
“We sincerely hope and expect the Labor Government is listening. It’s beyond irony that this strike is happening in the very week federal Labor is holding a summit to boost wages so workers don’t go backwards.”
An Icon Water spokesperson said the company respected the right of union members to take part in the protected industrial action.
“We will work to minimise any impact to the community by ensuring we have sufficient staff to cover our activities during the time any industrial action takes place,” they said.
“We are continuing our dialogue with the unions and employee representatives towards achieving a sustainable agreement for our employees and our customers who pay for water and sewerage services.”
Region contacted the ACT Government for comment and was advised to direct operational questions to Icon Water.