Ambulance paramedics legislated back to work

Bill 21 passed after overnight debate

Source: CUPE.CA

The Liberal government has forced an end to the Ambulance Paramedics’ legal strike following an all-night session in the B.C. Legislature.

The final vote took place early this morning despite a four-day battle by the Opposition NDP to stop Bill 21, the Ambulance Services Collective Agreement Act.

The bill sends 3,500 Ambulance Paramedics, members of CUPE 873, “back to work” after a seven-month strike that started on April 1. Throughout the dispute, the paramedics have been working under Essential Services orders.

Bill 21 is a shameful first in Canadian Labour history - the first time a government has forced its public employees back to work while the workers are in the middle of voting on a contract offer from that same government.

Paramedics’ spokesperson B.J. Chute called it “a sad day for democracy when our legal right to strike is removed but nothing has been done to end the labour dispute.” He said CUPE 873 members are now even more frustrated and upset than when they were just trying to get the government to improve ambulance services.

The imposed retroactive one-year contract gives the paramedics a three-per cent wage hike but does not address staffing, training, or equipment issues. Chute said they expect to be back at the bargaining table in less than a month from now.

On Friday, HEU members joined more than 400 striking ambulance paramedics supporters in a boisterous midday rally against Bill 21.

The crowd gathered outside the Vancouver Olympics Organizing Committee headquarters after it was revealed this week that VANOC applied pressure on the provincial government to end the paramedics’ strike before the 2010 Games. Health Services Minister Kevin Falcon initially denied that the Olympics were behind the repressive legislation, then the story changed.

B.C. Federation of Labour president Jim Sinclair pledged the support of unions across the province and warned that “if they are allowed get away with this it will be used again and again – instead of negotiating, employers will just sit back and wait until the government legislates.”

CUPE BC president Barry O’Neill countered claims by the Liberals that they had to legislate. “We have been willing to bargain all along and are still willing to negotiate anywhere, anytime.”

Ambulance Paramedics of BC president John Strohmaier told the crowds that the government ministers making these decisions “have no idea of the reality of being a paramedic – and if they did we would have fair contract by now.”

The Ambulance Paramedics of BC have been on strike since April 1 for better response times, equipment, wages and staffing levels. They have continued to work throughout the dispute under Essential Services orders. More than 400 striking ambulance paramedics, CUPE 873, and union supporters came out for a boisterous midday rally against Bill 21 Friday.

Rally speakers pointed to Bill 21, the Ambulance Services Collective Agreement Act now before the House, as a shameful first in Canadian Labour history – the first time a government has forced its public employees back to work while the workers are in the middle of voting on a contract offer from that same government.

At press time Bill 21 is still before the Legislature as the NDP continues to try to block its passage in the House.