BC Paramedics are not considered an essential service, an injustice according to many and something they hope to change using the same process that killed the Harmonized Sales Tax (HST) in B.C. in 2011.
Across the province canvassers are seeking signatures on a petition to have paramedics included in the Fire and Police Services Collective Bargaining Act.
“A change to the act, to include paramedics along side police officers and firefighters, would mean paramedics would be treated equally to the other first responders in this province,” according to Meghan Webb, a registered canvasser for the “Your Province Your Paramedics” movement.
As part of the Initiative act, paramedics have 90 days to collect in-person signatures from 10 per cent of each electoral district in the entire province.
That means they need 316,000 signatures by April 10.
Webb said paramedics will be out canvassing in Chilliwack this Saturday from noon to 5 p.m. at Superstore on Luckakuck Way.
The current situation is that paramedics are under the Facilities Bargaining Association, which includes hospital staff such as janitorial crews, kitchen staff and care aides, according to Webb.
As unionized workers in this category, and unlike police and firefighters who are deemed “essential,” paramedics have the right to strike.
If the group does get the required signatures to force a referendum — or the provincial government makes the change anyway — Webb said it would protect the public from strikes or lockouts.
So why give up the right to strike? When paramedics went on strike in 2009, the job action ended with back-to-work legislation from the provincial government deeming them temporarily an essential service.
“That essential service designation ended with the job action,” Webb explained.
So paramedics essentially can’t strike under the current situation, but being deemed an essential service would mean they can’t be locked out either.
Another benefit for paramedics is the use of independent arbitration during a dispute.
“Our negotiations would be carried out independently from the other hospital/medical support staff we are grouped with in our current situation,” Webb said. “This means will be able to directly address some of the large imbalances we have in our first-response system. A few examples would be our wage inequality and a severe shortage of ambulances in the Metro Vancouver and Victoria area.”
Elsewhere where signatures are being collected, canvassers report a near unanimous support from the public. This buoys their hopes the daunting task can be met since the HST petition was successful but faced more of a split among voters.
For those unable to sign the petition on Saturday at Superstore, Webb asked people to visit yourparamedics.ca for a list of upcoming events and/or to request a canvasser in your neighbourhood.
– with a file from Neil Corbett, Maple Ridge News