One piece of legislation has dominated the week in Victoria: the Ambulance Services Collective Agreement Act. It was introduced on Monday and we spent the rest of the week – and the weekend - debating it.
It was primarily members of the Opposition who stood up during the debate to question why this legislation was needed and to voice our concerns about how wrong the bill is. Essentially the legislation imposes a contract on our paramedics who have been on strike since April.
That comes despite the fact that the paramedics have had to work throughout their strike, which was intended to deal with recruitment and retention, wages, and the critical condition of the ambulance service itself.
The legislation was also introduced while a vote on an offer was being conducted; the outcome of that vote was due this Friday.
The imposition of a contract is an outrage to the process of free collective bargaining – a right for which there was a long and hard fight. Free collective bargaining is a right enshrined in the Charter and in international Charters to which we are signatories.
And to do it while a democratic vote is taking place undermines not just the labour negotiations but also our belief in a democratic system and democratic solution. This week’s process -- forcing the bill through in an unprecedented manner along with the nature of the bill itself – shows us once again how fragile our democracy is.
To add insult to injury this is about paramedics. Paramedics who have worked through their strike because they are an essential service. Paramedics who are on the front line, and are there to save our lives. Paramedics who put their lives on hold to ensure that we have quick access to medical care.
The situation facing paramedics – who have to pay for their own training, who are on call for $2 an hour for many hours at a time, who have to wait six years to be entitled to benefits – is appalling. It is no surprise that the BC Ambulance service is having trouble recruiting and retaining workers. The imposition of this bill does not address any of those issues: the 3% increase will mean that the on call pay goes up to $2.06.I told the House
about the example of one paramedic in Port Hardy who was in the middle of a 60 hour on call stint while we were debating the bill; she holds down three jobs to make ends meet and her average wage as a paramedic was $4 an hour.
Another brutal cut is the loss of our crisis lines across Vancouver Island. Instead of having local crisis lines working in our communities the Vancouver Island Health Authority wants to centralise the service with a 1-800 number. Based? Well who knows where it will be based, but it won’t be serving our local communities local needs. I raised this in the Legislature Thursday
, when a group of people from crisis lines across the island were on hand; it was also lead question period and we were able to present petitions from thousands of people opposed to the cuts.
After a weekend debating Bill 21 in the Legislature, this coming week I’ll be back in the constituency, dividing my time between Campbell River and other communities including Sayward, Quadra and Cortes. I hope that many of you are able to attend Remembrance Day memorials – it is very important that we recognise those who gave their lives for our peace and for our democracy.
I can always be reached by email at Claire.trevena.mlaleg.bc.ca or by phone at 250 287 5100 or 866 387 5100 in Campbell River and at 250 902 0375 in Port Hardy (the office hours there are Wednesday and Thursday afternoons).
Claire Trevena, MLA