B.C. paramedics’ union ‘optimistic’ amid movement at bargaining table

B.C. paramedics’ union ‘optimistic’ amid movement at bargaining table

The union representing B.C. paramedics is sounding a hopeful note heading into the Christmas holiday, amid signs of movement in stalled contract bargaining.

The Ambulance Paramedics of B.C. (APBC) have been in negotiations over a new collective agreement with the Health Employers Association of BC since early October.

Last week, the two sides agreed to bring veteran mediator Vince Ready to the table, and APBC president Troy Clifford said since then there has been progress.

“He’s been really pushing both parties to really come together, more in a collaborative way,” Clifford said.

“I’m optimistic we’re on the right path, and there’s definitely a joint commitment more than we had seen previously from the position the employers’ association had. So that’s a positive step, and because of that we’re encouraged really.”

Clifford said the union and the province had also agreed to a one-month extension of a temporary deal to boost rural and remote ambulance staffing by increasing the so-called “pager pay” on-call paramedics get from while on call, but not responding to an emergency, from $2 per hour to $12 per hour.

That extension, he said, was another sign of good faith on the part of both parties, and was made to allow both sides more time at the bargaining table.

Ready has instructed both the union and the employer to work on key proposals over the holiday, with the aim of closing the gap on the two sides’ positions, according to Clifford.

The parties will then sit down again with the mediator for three days, starting Jan. 4.

Health Minister Adrian Dix has previously said B.C. is in the midst of a “major transition” when it comes to paramedic and ambulance services, and that he remains optimistic both parties will reach a deal.

Earlier this week the union, which represents more than 4,500 paramedics, mulled the possibility of job action as Clifford said there was little movement on members’ key issues.

A strike mandate would send a “clear message” to the employer that significant funding is needed to recruit and retain staff, and improve services for residents across the province he said at the time.

According to the union, paramedics’ key issues remain their wage disparity with police, firefighters and health-care workers, the on-call pay model, and measures to address mental health and wellness.