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Paramedics vote for strike action

Photo: File.

Paramedics say morale among their St John colleagues is the lowest they've ever seen it, and they hope a planned strike will help secure better working conditions.

The majority of First Union's 1100 ambulance members are said to have voted to strike - believed to be the first time paramedics in New Zealand have ever walked off the job.

It comes after a breakdown in negotiations with St John over negotitions around shift rates, some proposed salary cuts and changes to rosters.

Union organiser Sarah Stone says St John was still refusing to pay the 1.25 shift rate agreed to after bargaining last year, and the charity wanted to reduce the wages of dispatchers and call takers by up to $10,000 per year.

Additionally, Sarah says during bargaining St John confirmed they wanted to remove minimum staffing levels, hours and places of work from the Collective Agreement.

"None of this is good enough, and First Union members are taking action after being taken advantage of by their employer for far too long."

She says ambulance crews voted to take full strike action, and the first 24-hour withdrawal of labour would take place on 25 November.

Trevor Hill is a paramedic in Hamilton and says the decision to walk off the job didn't come lightly, but crews were exhausted.

"We feel really, really undervalued, we feel St John don't really care."

Having been a paramedic for 12 years, Trevor says he was paid $60,000 a year, but working an extra 12 hour shift every week he managed to earn around $90,000.

He says the extra pay that St John agreed to last year for shift pay would bring him up to around $90,000 a year - without having to work overtime. 

"Instead of having to work 60 hours a week I would only have to be working 45 hours a week, and that would have a massive, massive impact on my family and my lifestyle."

Trevor says when he filled in as shift manager he would send out more than 200 texts asking staff to work, and not get one response - which he put down to staff burnout.

St John believes its latest pay offer is an improvement - it's touting it as the biggest pay correction in the history of the ambulance service.

Deputy chief executive Sue Steen says the offer it had made to ambulance staff was significant - including 1.15 shift rates and committing to maintain predictable rostering arrangements.

She says if increased penal rates were awarded it would not be possible to offer other parts of the remuneration progression package.

"We are able to make this unconditional offer following confirmation by the government that they will provide a sufficient contribution to enable the full implementation of the independent pay review," she said.

Two ambulance workers' unions have taken the offer to their members for ratification - she says the issue over penal rates would be heard by the Employment Court next year.

Any industrial action must be undertaken in a safe and professional manner and St John is working to ensure there is limited negative impact to patients, Sue says. 

Dr Ashley Bloomfield said Ministry of Health staff were trying to facilitate talks between the union and St John to resolve the issue, but he did not have any concerns for public safety if the strikes did go ahead.

"I know that both St John and the paramedics will work closely to ensure that public safety is not compromised. They all have a very strong commitment to that."

-RNZ

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6 Comments
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@ Kancho

Posted on 11-11-2020 15:34 | By

72yrs and still giving of your time - THANK YOU. I don’t know what you volunteer at but to need volunteers it is worthwhile so know you are truly appreciated.

Charitable

Posted on 11-11-2020 12:28 | By Kancho

Yes the point remains that full time workers are paid the same a Surf Life savers, firemen etc. These and other organisations so have volunteers who give time and like many organisations raise money to fund operations. It has been the NZ way for many charities that also have fully paid staff. I work as a volunteer for two organisations and under paid staff. I would say there are hundreds of organisations doing the same. There is a case for government funding but again there are hundreds of worthy organisations so how far will taxpayer money stretch in these challenging times. I note from my experience these are often elderly volunteers contributing and a concern for the future. I’m 72 and will soon have to give up

@ Kancho

Posted on 11-11-2020 11:25 | By

Under no circumstances whatsoever am I questioning their work or professionalism. Thank you to your 2 friends that have done this work. What I am questioning however is that a CHARITY pays staff, according to Trevor Hill from Hamilton, $90000.00+ per year. Yes they likely earn it but as Julz states, a charity for questionable reasons. As Julz also states, the public has no idea what’s going on behind the scenes. I agree with both of you and I can add categorically that ACC would like to know a few details . . .

Two cents

Posted on 10-11-2020 17:57 | By Julz

It’s run as a charity, for questionable reasons, but has highly skilled frontline staff who deserve pay that’s in line with similar rostered health and emergency professionals. The public has no idea what’s going on behind the scenes. It’s time to support these life-saving essential workers and expose St John’s underhand employment practices.

Good

Posted on 10-11-2020 16:55 | By Kancho

Go the staff. Yadick, St Johns have a volunteer groups but also a professional staff who work for pay. Two people I know work 12 hour shifts starting 7 am and 7 pm so its full time. One found 12 shift work and changing shift to hard and exhausting and so had to give up. The other finds it exhausting and also extra shifts so not easy and not well paid either. I know shift workers in the 1980’swho earned more than they do. First line responders dealing with very sad, gruesome traumatic circumstances, and sometimes violence I couldn’t do it and wouldn’t for the pay either ! St Johns has a lot of government funding , a lot of paid staff too. This not uncommon for a lot of organisations fire , surf life saving, hospitals etc paid and unpaid. Volunteers are everywhere

Really?

Posted on 10-11-2020 09:23 | By

This is a charity and staff are paid around $90,000.00 each per year . . . REALLY?