SURREY — Paramedics in Surrey, and other communities around B.C., have launched a petition to be considered an essential service in order to receive the same collective bargaining rights as firefighters and police officers.
Sarah Patch, South Fraser team lead for the petition, explained paramedics are currently included in the Facilities Bargaining Act, along with hospital support staff such as janitors, cooks, and clerks.
“We are not deemed an essential service, or an emergency service. In the event of a contract negotiation impasse, paramedics are legally allowed to strike, and the employer is legally allowed to lock us out,” Patch told the Now.
“We’re greatly outnumbered in bargaining. If they overwhelmingly vote to strike… we could be forced to cross picket lines, (striking) is not something we would do,” she said.
“It’s not right,” she added, “but this is the position we’ve been put in by the government.”
This is why paramedics have launched an Initiative Act application to move ambulance service paramedics and dispatchers into the Fire and Police Services Collective Bargaining Act. The amended act would be called the Ambulance, Fire and Police Services Collective Bargaining Act.
If successful, paramedics would lose the right to strike, and the employer would lose the right to lock them out. The change would also mean any time a contract cannot be negotiated, it would go to binding arbitration.
And they’ve only got until April 10 to collect a minimum of 10 per cent of all registered voters’ signatures in all of the province’s 85 electoral districts.
If they meet their deadline, the matter will either be referred directly to the legislature or be referred to a general ballot, where B.C. voters will have their say.
Patch said the initiative is going well so far, and early estimates suggest tens of thousands of signatures as of early February.
“At first I really wanted to succeed but I was hesitant to believe it actually could be done. The only (Initiative Act) that’s been successful was the HST,” said Patch. “But the public has been overwhelmingly supportive. Once they find out what it’s for, it’s almost 99 per cent, I would say personally, that I’ve seen sign. They’re shocked to find out we’re not considered an essential service. Some of our own paramedics don’t even realize we don’t have the same rights as police and fire.”
Last Thursday (Feb. 16), a dozen or so Surrey paramedics manned tables at the Save-On Foods off 176th Street in Cloverdale.
More than 700 signatures were collected in the one day.
Jessica Powell, a Cloverdale resident who has been a paramedic since 2004, brought her infant son along for the day.
“It’s a lot of work to get events like this going,” said Powell. “Most of the people here are still working their regular four-on-four-off rotation so people like myself who are on maternity leave, people who are injured, have really been a lot of it.
“The reception from people has been really good,” she added. “Once they really hear what’s happening, they’re surprised to hear we’re not an essential service, so they’re happy to support us, they’re happy to help make that happen, it’s just a matter of educating people more than anything.”
The next Surrey event is set for March 3 at Fresh Street Market on Highway 10 and 152nd St., from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Online, voters can also request a canvasser to visit their neighbourhood to collect their signature.
Visit yourparamedics.ca for more information.