The union for more than 4,500 paramedics in British Columbia is mulling job action as negotiations with their provincial employer fail to produce results.
The Ambulance Paramedics of British Columbia, or CUPE Local 873, began bargaining with the Health Employers Association of BC in October.
Veteran labour mediator Vince Ready agreed to step in temporarily last week to help the groups “get some common ground,” according to union president Troy Clifford. Since then, he said some progress has been made on the union’s wage disparity and service delivery model concerns, and the union is expecting a proposal that addresses them by Tuesday at the latest.
“As a result of that, we’ve scheduled all day Wednesday with Mr. Ready,” Clifford told Global News.
“Depending on how things go Wednesday, one of the things we would do is go to the membership for a strike mandate. That’s a standard process.”
A strike mandate would send a “clear message” to the employer, the provincial government, and all who provide ambulance services in B.C. that significant funding is needed to recruit and retain staff, and improve services for residents across the province, Clifford said.
Health Minister Adrian Dix said B.C. is in the midst of a “major transition” when it comes to paramedic and ambulance services. He said he’s optimistic both parties will reach a deal.
“I can’t say what the agreement will be of course, but it’s my view that we have to take strong action to recruit paramedics to rural communities and that’s what was failing prior to 2017, that’s what we’ve tried to change by moving people from casual status to permanent status,” he explained.
“That’s what we’ve got to continue to do.”
In the fall, the B.C. government and union reached a “temporary” deal to boost ambulance staffing in rural and remote communities by increasing the “pager pay” paramedics receive while on call, but not responding to an emergency, from $2 per hour to $12 per hour.
That agreement also saw overtime and recall shifts on evenings and weekends paid at a double overtime rate. Both measures will expire on Dec. 31, or when an agreement is reached at the bargaining table — whichever happens first.
“We see those as changes that need to happen to recruit people in the system. We’re going to continue to pursue that but what we want is an agreement,” Dix said.
The interim offers replaced a pair of other incentives BC Emergency Health Services implemented in June, which offered paramedics $100 per shift for agreeing to regular on-call shifts, and to paramedics willing to take two to four week-long placements in remote communities.
“Every day that we drag out, we’re going into the holiday season now, and people who need urgent medical care will be waiting even longer to get ambulance,” said Clifford.
“This weekend — I’ve said it so many times, and I feel like it’s a broken record — we had out worst weekend ever.”
The Lower Mainland was hammered by snow on Saturday, and at one point, had 82 calls in the dispatch queue. Some 60 ambulances were out of service that day, Clifford added, due to about 40 per cent of them not being staffed.
In Burnaby on Saturday night, there was only one primary care ambulance. There would normally be six.
– With files from Simon Little.
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