In a rare move that received cross-aisle support, the New Brunswick government announced it will reclassify paramedics Tuesday.
The change means they will move from their current bargaining unit that classifies paramedics as unskilled labour, to one that represents medical professionals.
About 150 paramedics marched together into the legislature to hear the news and say the move will improve morale and even clear the way for a potential pay increase.
“What this does is it formally recognizes paramedics as the medical professionals they are,” said the chair of the committe on reclassification and working paramedic Joel Mattatal.
“Why is morale important for paramedics? Well these individuals are responding to your worst day every day. … Improving their morale is going to mean that we have a better staffed system which means there’s going to be an ambulance next time you call 911.”
New Brunswick’s Health minister Ted Flemming announced the change during minister statements in the legislature on Tuesday afternoon. He told reporters afterwards that the change will reflect the true nature of paramedic work which has changed drastically over time.
“When I was younger a paramedic put pressure on the wound and a hearse painted white was an ambulance,” he said.
“Well the world has changed dramatically. These people are trained medical professionals, an ambulance is a mini emergency room on wheels and this recognizes the growth and progression of the profession.”
The change will also have union implications. Currently paramedics are represented by the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) but would now be represented by the New Brunswick Union (NBU). CUPE has a small window to appeal the reclassification to the labour board, but Mattatal is hopeful they won’t.
“We want this. We know we’re medical professionals and I think it would be the definition of insanity to give our union dues that would later be taken for legal fees to dispute something we want,” he said.
The change will also have implications for an entirely different piece of legislation. Last week People’s Alliance Leader Kris Austin said he would no longer support the government should they not move forward with paramedic reclassification within a week. The support of the Alliance will be needed if the government hopes to pass amendments to the Essential Services in Nursing Homes Act.
But with paramedic reclassification announced and an Alliance approved government amendment to the essential services legislation in the works Austin says he will likely be supporting the bill when it’s put to a confidence vote later this week.