Paramedics should be an essential service

Editorial

Tuesday, March 14 2017

Over the next couple of weeks, Gabriola paramedics - along with many of their fellow paramedics across the province - will be collecting signatures on a petition which, if successful, will see paramedics included with firefighters and police officers as an essential service.

Believe it or not - paramedics are not currently listed as an essential service in BC. (Yet they can be forced back to work if they strike, because their being on strike poses a potential threat to health, safety or welfare of the residents of British Columbia).

The petition was filed through the BC Initiative Process, whereby a registered voter can propose a new law or changes to an existing law on matters over which the provincial legislature has authority.

The voter must collect signatures from 10 per cent of the registered voters in each of the province’s electoral districts for an initiative petition to succeed.

Paramedic Josh Henshaw out of Victoria is the proponent of this particular petition, which seeks to include public sector paramedics in the interest arbitration process used to settle collective agreements for fire and police services without strikes or lockouts. 

This would be achieved by moving public sector paramedics from their current position in the Facilities Bargaining Association to a renamed Ambulance, Fire and Police Services Collective Bargaining Act.

The Fire and Police Services Collective Bargaining Act protects the public from interruptions to certain essential services by referring all bargaining impasses to binding interest arbitration. This means that ambulance service paramedics and dispatchers would not be allowed to strike, and their employer would not be allowed to lock them out.

Paramedics have 90 days, starting from January 9, 2017, to collect the signatures.

Henshaw clarified that the petition is not from the paramedics’ union, but it does have the union’s endorsement.

Critics have said the union should not be giving up its right to strike. Henshaw says he’s heard that a lot when canvassing in Victoria.

“We don’t actually get anything out of our right-to-strike. The province legislates the service levels and legislates us back to work or imposes a contract.”

There’s the additional problem that the paramedics’ contract is bound up in the Facilities Bargaining Association, which includes the health care support staff around the province who outnumber the paramedics when it comes to voting on a contract, meaning that if the contract is good for the rest of the support staff, but not for paramedics, the contract is still approved when it’s voted on. Henshaw said that’s what happened in 2014. Paramedics voted 76 per cent to reject the proposed contract, but overall the unit voted 66 per cent to accept it. “So we had to accept by default.”

Carley Barker is the union representative for the paramedics who work at the Gabriola station. She and other volunteers from the station will be at Folklife Village over the weekends of March 18/19 and March 25/26 collecting signatures. She and other volunteers will also be canvassing the ferry lineup.

Henshaw said for the district of Nanaimo-North Cowichan, the petition needs just over 4,000 signatures. On Friday last week he said, “We’re about halfway there right now.” Ideally, the petitioners would like to see 500 signatures from Gabriolans, a community known to be able to support a good cause.

If anyone would like to volunteer to be a canvasser, it is a requirement to register prior to collecting signatures.

According to Elections BC, the Chief Electoral Officer says this is the tenth initiative petition application since the Recall and Initiative Act came into force in 1995. 

Only one petition, the 2010 Initiative Petition to End the Harmonized Sales Tax (HST), was successful.