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B.C. paramedics on strike



Prepare for picketing - B.C.'s paramedics are going on strike.

CUPE Local 873, which represents all pre-hospital care workers in British Columbia, has commenced job action in order to address a "system in peril."

The paramedics' union is hoping to address four key issues as part of its job action. However, ambulance services are considered "essential" and will not be impacted by job action.

The first issue for paramedic is staff shortages in various communities. CUPE 873 feels that remote and rural communities aren't staffed enough. The union says that "On Call Volunteers" are normally the ones who respond to emergencies through a pager call. Full time workers are needed, it says.

"There's part-time members who are treated as little more than volunteers by the government," said BJ Chute, a spokesman for Ambulance Paramedics of B.C.

Next are working conditions. CUPE 873 says that there's been a "sharp increase" in calls for help but no corresponding increase in paramedics or ambulances. In some parts of the province, CUPE says that the call volume has increased by half.

Also at issue is recruitment and containment. Rural and remote paramedic stations in the Sea to Sky Corridor, CUPE says, are having trouble even staffing their ambulances because it costs too much to do paramedic training in B.C.

Finally there's compensation parity. It varies depending on whether a paramedic is full time or part time, on call or has to attend an emergency. But CUPE says the wages aren't competitive.

"Paramedics are some of the lowest paid across Canada," Chute said. "We're looking to narrow the gap that exists between other emergency responders."

Chute said that patients can expect the same level of paramedic service that they enjoy when there isn't a strike happening, but he nevertheless hopes to create "chaos for the employer" - in this case, the B.C. government.

"A strike is designed to cause chaos for the employer," he said. "We're not impacting paramedic services. If they need an ambulance, the same level is being provided today and throughout our labour dispute."