Veteran B.C. mediator Vince Ready deployed to break paramedic contract impasse

Veteran B.C. mediator Vince Ready deployed to break paramedic contract impasse

One of British Columbia’s most respected labour mediators has been called in to try and break an impasse in contract negotiations for the province’s paramedics.

Vince Ready arrived Thursday morning and has signed on for two days with the Ambulance Paramedics of B.C. and their provincial employer, according to union president Troy Clifford.

“To see if he can assess where we are at and where we can get some common ground and help us get to those key issues … see how far apart we are and where we can get from there — so we’re optimistic,” Clifford told Global News.

“But if we don’t get some significant progress in the near future, we’re going to have to look at escalating to whether we go to the membership for a mandate for job action. We don’t want to get there. Our message to the government is — with the surplus and the opportunity to fix the ambulance service — now is the time.”

Health Minister Adrian Dix confirmed Ready’s participation in negotiations, and said he remains optimistic both sides can reach a deal.

The negotiations come amid persistent reports of paramedic staffing and ambulance delays, particularly in rural parts of the province. At least two cases of people dying while waiting for ambulances were reported this summer.

Paramedics and their employer began negotiations on Oct. 3 and, according to the union, have logged more than 25 bargaining sessions in the months since.

Despite those efforts, Clifford said there has been “no significant progress” on the union’s key priorities.

The union’s top issue is the disparity in wages with police, firefighters and other health-care workers.

“We’re over 30 per cent behind our partners, and that’s years and years of lagging behind,” Clifford said.

“That’s really hurting our ability to recruit and retain paramedics across the province.”

Paramedics also want to see long-term movement on the current pay model for on-call crews, most of whom work in rural and remote environments and face pay-rates of $2 per hour when not responding to an incident.

Last year, the province attempted to address this issue with a new “scheduled on-call” model that guaranteed eight hours of paid work and 16 hours on-call on three-day rotations, but the union criticized the model as ineffective.

In October, the province and the union reached a temporary deal to boost rural staffing, which upped “pager pay” for on-call shifts from $2 to $12 per hour and offered double overtime pay in some cases.

That deal is set to expire at the end of December.

The union’s third unaddressed priority, according to Clifford, is paramedics’ mental health and wellness.

“The psychological and moral injuries that are happening every day to our paramedics. We know its 30 per cent … (the) highest of any profession, according to WorkSafeBC’s numbers,” he said.

“That’s a third of our workforce, essentially, is injured because of the work we do.”

Paramedics have launched an aggressive media campaign under the tag-line “sounding the alarm” as negotiations drag on.

The bargaining comes as the province hammers out contracts with dozens of public sector unions that have been pushing for wage increases to address surging costs of living.

The province has cleared major hurdles in recent months with a new pay model for doctors and new contracts for the B.C. General Employees Union and BC Teachers’ Federation.

Negotiations with the B.C. Nurses’ Union are ongoing.

Veteran B.C. mediator Vince Ready deployed to break paramedic contract impasse