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Okanagan paramedic voices concern about proposed wage drop

Okanagan paramedic voices concern about proposed wage drop
WATCH: An Oliver paramedic is voicing concern about the $2/hour on-call rate in the midst of a global pandemic. Jules Knox reports.

Juliet Kaczmarek is a paramedic on the frontlines of the coronavirus pandemic, but under proposed changes to her collective agreement, she’s expecting to sometimes make $2 an hour for an on-call shift.

Kaczmarek is stationed in Oliver, B.C., as a casual paramedic, and when she’s scheduled for an on-call shift, she has to be ready to respond to an emergency within minutes.

She makes $2 an hour if there are no calls, but until this week, would also be paid four hours at a full wage, which usually starts around $27 an hour.

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However, she said that effective April 3, under the proposed terms of her new collective agreement, she would no longer get that guaranteed pay if there are no calls.

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“So what that looks like for myself: I’m commuting to work, and if I go in for a 12-hour shift, I’ll be coming out with just $24,” she said. “However, if we get a call, I also need to be prepared to respond fully to all life and death circumstances.”

“Paramedics don’t feel like they’re valued right now,” she said. “It’s really concerning because we, as casual paramedics, cannot afford to work at a $2 per hour wage.”

WATCH BELOW: EXTENDED INTERVIEW WITH JULIET KACZMAREK

Extended interview with an Okanagan paramedic
Extended interview with an Okanagan paramedic

Kaczmarek said that while the risks have never been higher for both her and her family, there are currently fewer calls coming in.

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“What we’re actually finding right now is with people staying at home, there’s less activity, so there are actually less calls happening right now,” she said.

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Although it depends on the season, it’s quite common to have no calls come in, she added.

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Kaczmarek also noted that the $2 an hour on-call wage is difficult for paramedics with children.

“They have to have backup child care available,” she said. “So if they’re randomly called at any point either in the night or in the day, often times are scrambling to find that child care, and in many circumstances, they have to pay for that.”

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“When you’re calculating their wages, if they’re only paid for four hours of their actual shift, often times they’re paying more for child care than they’re actually receiving from their wage,” she said.

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Kaczmarek is worried that the rate cut would leave people in smaller communities at higher risk.

“My biggest concern is the vulnerability of communities that won’t have an ambulance that will respond in an adequate amount of time, simply due to the fact that they’re not able to staff it, if staff isn’t being compensated,” she said.

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Kaczmarek wrote a letter to Health Minister Adrian Dix to highlight the problems facing paramedics in smaller and rural communities.

“This schedule composition suggests that the Ministry of Health is relying on casual paramedics to service rural communities as a cost-saving mechanism,” she wrote.

“Such an approach is grossly unfair to skilled paramedics who perform a highly valued service and is equally unfair to smaller communities that deserve the same standard as larger communities.”

“I am bringing this issue to your attention as Minister of Health, and to the public’s attention, to raise awareness of the inequity that many paramedics are facing in the hope that you will rectify the situation by ensuring that BC Emergency Health Services will pay paramedics a wage that reflects their worth,” she wrote.

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The health ministry referred Global News to BC Emergency Health Services, which said in an email that in the last round of collective agreement bargaining, the paramedics’ union and Health Employers Association of BC negotiated a “scheduled on-call” deployment model.

“[It] will see hundreds of regular paramedic positions introduced in rural and remote communities across the province,” BC Emergency Health Services spokesperson Sarah Morris said.

The minimum four hours of pay for on-call staff was being phased out in some communities as the new model was rolled out, she added.

However, over the past few weeks, the rapid spread of the COVID-19 pandemic has redirected resources, and officials have shifted away from rolling out the new scheduled on-call model, Morris said.

In light of this, a decision has been made to delay the phase-out of the guaranteed wages until May 1, she added.

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Kaczmarek responded that paramedics deserved to be compensated adequately for their worth, regardless of the COVID-19 crisis.

“We are always putting ourselves at risk for unknown illnesses when responding to patients,” she said. “It’s surprising it took a pandemic to delay the loss of the [wage] guarantee.”
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“After May 1 the hazards will still be significant for us,” she added.