Quebec's striking ambulance workers demand negotiations
The union representing thousands of striking ambulance technicians and paramedics will be holding protests around the province to pressure health officials into returning to the bargaining table.
About 30 ambulance technicians and paramedics were protesting next to Urgences-Santé's headquarters in Montreal on Sunday afternoon.
They are demanding that Quebec's health ministry set dates for more negotiations.
Yvon Bonesso, the union's spokesman, said the group wants improved pay scales along with better pensions and benefits.
"We don't have the same pension plan as the other provincial union employees. It's a hybrid pension plan and some people cannot do this [job] until they are 65 years old. It doesn't make sense," said Bonesso.
The union currently has 16 different levels on the pay scale. Union officials say this makes it hard for new employees to reach the higher pay brackets.
Some employees will be travelling to Sherbrooke, the Saguenay, Quebec's north shore and Quebec City this week to make their demands heard.
"Paramedics have had enough with this attitude. Today, we are beginning an important tour to show the ministry that we want scheduled negotiations," said Dany Lacasse, a CSN union official.
Ambulance workers have also stopped telling hospitals when new non-emergency cases are brought in, subsequently making work harder for staff in emergency rooms.
Hospitals have reportedly been inundated with an abnormally large amount of patients suffering from flu and gastroenteritis symptoms.
Martin Jobin, the president of the paramedics' association (ATPH) for the Quebec region, said ambulance workers don't usually signal cases unless they are serious.
He said employees will continue to alert hospital workers when serious cases make their way into emergency rooms.
"There are more methods that the mobilization committee keeps in its surprise bag. If we have to take them out, we will," said Jobin.
2 years without a contract
About 2,500 workers represented by the CSN labour federation triggered an unlimited general strike on Christmas Eve after talks broke down with employers.
Since then, the union has taken charge of the schedule and increased the number of employees working rather than maintaining the same workflow.
As an essential service, the ambulance technicians are required to provide emergency care during a contract dispute.
Ambulance workers have been without a contract since March 2010 and have been in negotiating since February 2011.
The CSN, which represents nearly 60 per cent of the province's ambulance workers, reached a tentative deal in July, but 71 per cent of its members voted against the deal in October.