On the Picket Line

Australia garbage collectors take strike action

By Bob Aiken
April 3, 2023

SYDNEY — Garbage workers organized by the Transport Workers Union at the Cleanaway depot in Canberra went on a 24-hour strike March 11 pressing for a new contract. Workers here and in Queensland also took strike action in recent weeks, and more strikes are planned as the bosses try to impose 12-hour days, including weekend work.

Cleanaway is the biggest garbage-collection company in Australia, with around 5,000 trucks operating out of more than 200 locations. Contracts are negotiated depot by depot.

At Cleanaway’s Hillsdale depot servicing the City of Sydney council — Sydney’s downtown and nearby residential districts — workers carried out four 24-hour strikes in January and February. Having received no pay rise for two years, they say they now get some 4 Australian dollars ($2.68) an hour less than workers at other depots in the city. They are also fighting company demands to eliminate overtime pay while extending the normal workday from eight to 12 hours, and on weekend work as well.

After Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore declared she had spoken with Cleanaway and expected the dispute to be resolved quickly, the Transport Workers Union organized a rally of Hillsdale workers outside Sydney Town Hall Feb. 14. Richard Olsen, New South Wales state union secretary, explained that the contract with Cleanaway had expired last June and the company refused to negotiate. The contract they were trying to impose would cut a worker’s pay by “hundreds of dollars a week,” he said, adding that “workers are threatened with dismissal” if they speak out.

The Transport Workers Union says that the Hillsdale depot is seriously understaffed. Despite more overtime hours being worked and the company using subcontractors, garbage collection in the City of Sydney council area has been affected for months.