VICTORIA – The B.C. Liberals are legislating the province’s 3,500 striking ambulance paramedics “back to work” with the Ambulance Services Collective Agreement Act. The move today in the Legislature is a first in Canadian labour history. It marks the first time a government has forced public employees to accept a collective agreement while the union is in the middle of voting on an offer from that same government.
The paramedics, members of CUPE 873, have been on strike since April 1 for better staffing levels, wages, and an independent industrial inquiry commission to address the critical condition of ambulance services. The membership is voting on the government’s Sept. 28 offer with the results expected this Friday. The legislation calls for a retroactive one-year deal (with a three-per-cent wage hike) – with less than is in the offer they are voting right now.
CUPE BC president Barry O’Neill said the move “marks a shocking new low by this government.” He added that “despite our repeated attempts to settle this dispute at the bargaining table, the government has shown its true colours by not even waiting until the end of this week for the democratic results of the membership vote on their latest offer.”
“Paramedics have had their right to strike virtually eliminated via Essential Services orders. They’ve repeatedly asked for an independent arbitrator and the government has repeatedly refused. Now they have had their right to collective bargaining taken away”, said O’Neill.
Falcon said today he “knows there are a whole bunch of labour issues,” but said he wants to “put those aside” especially in light of how tired the Ambulance Service managers have gotten over the past seven months doing just part of the regular work that paramedics do.
According to CUPE 873 president John Strohmaier, “The government claims that this legislation is necessary in light of the H1N1 crisis, but we have being saying the service needs serious attention for more than four years. “We warned the provincial government five months ago that equipment was not adequate to meet the pandemic – many ambulances still not have adequate equipment for these frontline health workers. If they wanted to protect the public they could have settled this dispute and got down to work on improving ambulance services months ago.”
“Doney says they want to fill vacancies but can’t train new employees during the strike. The reality is that paramedics are leaving the service in droves because they pay for their own training, they pay for their own travel to and from the job and they cannot afford to remain paramedics,” Strohmaier explained