No pay resolution in sight for Victorian paramedics

One of the many political slogans directed towards the state government, over the ongoing industrial dispute.   Source: Ambulance Employees Association of Australia.  Photographer Linda Ruben

One of the many political slogans directed towards the state government, over the ongoing industrial dispute.
Source: Ambulance Employees Association of Australia.
Photographer Linda Ruben

A man lies unconscious outside of his property in Sunshine, after suffering a cardiac arrest.

Paramedics, who have been called to the scene, administer clot-busting drugs and develop ECG records that are sent off electronically to a cardiology lab.

Victorian paramedics are now expected to perform intensive life support and deliver sophisticated medical treatments, out in the field.

However, despite increases in responsibility, Victorian paramedics remain stressed about the state of their remuneration and are voicing their grievances.

“Paramedics deserve a proper and meaningful wage increase”, General Manager of Ambulance Victoria Tony Walker says.

Two years have passed and Victorian paramedics are still no closer to resolving their pay dispute with the Napthine government.

Recently, Ambulance Employees Australia rejected the state government’s latest pay offer, which consisted of a $3,000 sign on rate for full time employees, a 6% increase in basic wages upfront and a further 3% increase over the next two years.

“The amount that the Coalition government has put on the table, is less than the consumer price index, when calculated over the term of the agreement”, Daniel Hill says.

Daniel Hill is the Assistant Secretary of the Ambulance Union and a former paramedic.

Hill has been directly involved with the current pay dispute since its beginning, facilitating discussion with paramedics and their families.

“I was involved in the original log of claims that came from paramedic feedback. We started that process a year before the current agreement expired. Six months prior to the agreement, feedback was given to Ambulance Victoria for consideration.”

The average wage of a paramedic in Australia is $59,292 per year.

However, the Ambulance Union claims that Victorian paramedics are being paid $25,000 less than their interstate counterparts.

“South Australian paramedics are the best paid paramedics in Australia. A day one paramedic in South Australia is paid exactly the same or possibly even more, than the most senior paramedics in Victoria. We want this inequality addressed”, Daniel Hill says.

Despite the alleged difference in pay statewide, the Napthine government remains committed to their latest offer.

In a recent press conference, the Minister of Health, Daniel Davis, described the pay deal as a “significant package that has been put on the table.”

The Parliamentary Secretary for Health, Georgie Crozier, suggests that the offer is consistent with the Victorian governments wage policy and the percentage increase sought by the union.

“The government is very committed to supporting our hardworking and skilled paramedics. What we have offered is both fair and reasonable”, Crozier says.

Georgie Crozier is a former midwife who has worked in the public health sector for 16 years.

Crozier believes that the Ambulance Union is actively preventing the resolution of the pay dispute because they only want to settle on their own terms.

“Victorian paramedics want a pay rise and the state government is willing to grant it. Unfortunately, it appears that the union do not want to settle or at least allow independent arbitration to occur.”

The Parliamentary Secretary for Health also suspects that the activities of the union have become a part of the opposition’s political campaign.

“The union isn’t prepared to represent their members but instead aims to serve the interests of the Labor party.”

The Shadow Minister for Health Promotion, Danielle Green, is all too familiar with these claims.

Green says that the union is not towing the Labor party’s position on the dispute but rather offering support to paramedics.

“The Napthine Government is unable to resolve this dispute because they are seeking to remove important conditions from the agreement, which paramedics value and the union aims to fight for.”

When questioned about the alleged stalling tactics of the Ambulance Union, David Hill laughs.

Hill says that over the course of the row, the Ambulance Union has made numerous attempts at resolution, which have all been rejected by the state government.

“We wrote to Ted Baillieu back in 2012, seeking to have the wage component of the dispute resolved by an independent umpire. He refused. When Denis Napthine came in, we wrote again offering the same thing, which he refused also. We have put our own counter offers up and they have rejected all of them.”

The Napthine government is currently under fire for deteriorating response times to urgent calls and failing to meet the increasing demand for ambulance services.

No region in Victoria has been able to meet the government mandated response time of 15 minutes for code 1 incidents.

The latest annual report from Ambulance Victoria indicates that code 1 calls were responded to within 15 minutes, in 73 percent of cases.

However, when compared to the previous financial year, there was a 1.8% decrease in Ambulance Victoria’s response times to life threatening and critical cases.

The Health Minister, David Davis, has gone on public record to say, “no government has been able to meet those (ambulance response time) benchmarks.”

Ambulance Victoria refuses to release the latest response times, on the basis that the data may further inflame the industrial dispute.

The Shadow Minister for Health Promotion, Danielle Green, insists that Ambulance Victoria is withholding the data from the general public, at the request of the state government.

“Over recent years, we have seen response times deteriorate. Ambulance Victoria’s annual report showed for the third year in a row that more than a quarter of Code 1 emergency ambulances are not arriving within the benchmark of 15 minutes”, Danielle Green says.

Green argues that if the opposition were re-elected, the pay dispute would be resolved with the assistance of an independent umpire.

“Unlike the Napthine government, we would be a government that values paramedics. Labor would refer (the dispute) to the Fair Work Commission for consent arbitration.”

Ambulance Employees Australia expects that over half of the paramedic workforce will quit in the next five years, if the pay dispute is not resolved.

“We believe there is a big risk of people leaving. We surveyed our members back in 2012 and it was overwhelmingly shown that paramedics were considering quitting, if things didn’t improve”, Assistant Secretary Daniel Hill says.

“Paramedics work very challenging rosters, 10, 14 day rosters, where you do day shift, night shift. 4 days off. Most paramedic families only have one source of income, the paramedic wage, which is quite hard to live on.”

However, the Parliamentary Secretary of Health, Georgie Crozier, rejects the possibility of a mass exodus and thinks that the suggestion is ludicrous.

“It is complete and utter nonsense. However, I imagine that paramedics would want this pay dispute resolved and are therefore somewhat frustrated.”

On the 13th of October, the Professional Association that represents Ambulance Managers reached a new pay agreement with Ambulance Victoria.

The General Manager of Ambulance Victoria, Tony Walker, hopes that the industrial dispute involving the paramedic workforce will soon follow suit.

Walker emphasises that Ambulance Victoria is willing to negotiate further with the state government, in order to finally agree on an appropriate settlement.

“Ambulance Victoria remains open to discussions and is committed to negotiating a wage increase for our paramedics as soon as possible.”

“We are also happy for Fair Work Australia to independently rule on outstanding matters on which we (and the government) have been unable to reach an agreement with the union.”

Perhaps in the near future, the industrial dispute will finally come to a close.

Victorian paramedics would then be able to undertake their work, without worrying about the state of their pay.

UPDATE: Victorian ambulance workers have successfully reached a settlement with the state government.

The deal consists of a 6 percent increase from the 1st of January next year. There will also be a further 3 percent pay increase in 2015 and 2016.

The agreement has been signed by Ambulance Victoria and the unions representing paramedics.

Resolving the pay dispute was one of the Labor party’s main election promises.

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