A B.C. paramedic and peers around the province are collecting signatures to petition the government to consider ambulance service paramedics and dispatchers an essential service like fire and police.
Joshua Henshaw says the roughly 4,000 paramedics are now under the Health Authorities Act.
This means they bargain along with hospital support staff like lab techs, clerks, and cleaning staff.
But with members making up just 10% of that unit, he says their voices are limited.
“When it comes to bargaining we have no control over strike votes or accepting or refusing contracts. We don’t think the ambulance service should be in that precarious of a position.”
The petition seeks to amend the Fire and Police Services Collective Bargaining Act to include paramedics.
In doing so, it would remove the right of ambulance paramedics to strike, and also block their employer from locking them out – instead requiring that disputes be solved through arbitration.
“If there’s an impasse and we can’t negotiate a deal in good faith then the third party arbitrator can come in and make a binding decision on both sides,” Henshaw says.
B.C. paramedics last went on strike in 2009, a dispute which ended with then Health Minister Kevin Falcon legislating them back to work.
During that dispute, the Labour Relations Board put the union under an essential services order to ensure emergency medical services were available.
The petition is being launched under the Recall and Initiative Act, the same law that enabled the HST referendum.
Under the legislation, proponents have 90 days to collect signatures from at least 10% of the registered voters in each of British Columbia’s 85 ridings in order to have their bill brought to the legislature.
Elections B.C. has given Henshaw until April tenth to collect nearly 316,000 signatures.
With files from Simon Little