British Columbia

B.C. paramedics aren't an essential service, but some of them want to be

A group of B.C. paramedics have launched a citizen's initiative campaign to have paramedics declared an essential service in the province.

'We do the job because we want to show up and do a service to the community,' says paramedic

B.C. Ambulance trucks wait outside of St. Paul's Hospital in Vancouver. Some paramedics want their work to be declared an essential service. (Tina Lovgreen/CBC)

Firefighters and police are recognized as an "essential service" in B.C. and now some paramedics want the same recognition.

Victoria paramedic Josh Henshaw has started a petition under the province's initiative process to designate paramedics as essential.

Under the provincial provisions, Henshaw has until Apr. 10 to obtain signatures from at least 10 per cent of the electorate in each electoral district to trigger either a referendum or legislative action.

The petition calls on the government to amend the Fire and Police Services Collective Bargaining Act to give ambulance paramedics the same collective bargaining rights as firefighters and police officers.

Under the proposed amendments, ambulance paramedics would no longer have the right to strike and their employers wouldn't have the right to lock them out during an impasse in the bargaining process.

"We do the job because we want to show up and do a service to the community," Henshaw told Radio West host Audrey Mckinnon.

"We don't want service disruptions as a result of failed negotiations."

The last time paramedics were on strike was 2009. The job action ended with back-to-work legislation from the provincial government and the strike's effectiveness was blunted when the province temporarily declared them an essential service. Henshaw says that essential service designation ended with the job action.

Workers providing essential services are unable to strike, but if they do become involved in a labour dispute they would be subject to binding arbitration. Henshaw said independent arbitrators have generally come to fair deals for both sides.

"People are truly surprised we're not an essential service," Henshaw said. "Most people are surprised the ambulance service can be subject to strikes.

"When you call 911 they ask if you want fire, police or ambulance. So it only makes sense that that's where we should be."

Henshaw and other petition organizers are currently touring the province to drum up signatures for their petition.

With files from CBC Radio One's Radio West

To hear the full story, click the audio labelled: B.C. paramedics aren't an essential service, but some of them want to be