Double overtime pay not enough for overworked paramedics, union says
Local president says wage increase would do more than overtime boost for paramedics
Paramedics in New Brunswick are working up to 400 extra hours beyond what is required each year for full-time work, says the president of the union representing Ambulance New Brunswick paramedics and dispatchers.
Gregory McConaghy of CUPE Local 4848, said paramedics have been working the extra hours for about five years.
"We don't have enough staff and we don't make enough money," McConaghy said.
"We don't have staff and we're working overtime because we're not making a comparable wage to what we're doing."
There aren't enough paramedics in the province to fill ambulances, McConaghy said, because low wages for difficult work have led to low recruitment and difficulty retaining employees.
But as a short-term solution, paramedics are now being offered double overtime pay by Medavie Health Services and the government of New Brunswick as a way to fill paramedic positions in the summer.
Nobody wants to be a paramedic because they see what we're up against.- Gregory McConaghy, union president
Chisholm Pothier, a spokesperson for Medavie, said paramedics were offered the additional overtime pay because there are fewer paramedics in summer, when people take vacation, not as a long-term solution.
"That means that there are less ambulance units on the road, and so it was getting to a point where it was causing a lot of stress on the people who were covering those shifts and putting pressure on the system … so we're paying double time now," Pothier said.
"And we've seen a positive effect so far."
The deal was accepted by the Canadian Union of Public Employees, but McConaghy said the double overtime pay isn't the only fix needed.
"We just want to be making a wage that we don't have to work 300 to 400 hours overtime every year, so we can bring a decent wage home," McConaghy said.
He said paramedics start out making about $48,000 a year for physically and mentally stressful work.
"The only way that this is going to get better is, first of all is, for us to get a wage adjustment, where we can make a good living and so that they can get the school filled back up again because nobody wants to get into this," McConaghy said.
"Nobody wants to be a paramedic because they see what we're up against."
In a statement, Health Minister Hugh Flemming said the department is aware of the human resource issues the ambulance system faces. He said the double overtime pay agreement was meant to find replacement staff when employees called in sick during the summer.
"As minister, I am hopeful that we can identify and develop long-term solutions to the broader human resources issues by working together with all parties," he said.
And McConaghy said a long-term solution is needed to increase the number of paramedics in the province.
"It's a Band-Aid and we know it's a Band-Aid and we know come September or when this calms down a little, it won't be double overtime anymore, but it will still be back to the same," he said.
"And the trucks will still be down and we'll still be working overtime."
Pothier said the extra pay will not be offered after Labour Day, but Medavie is working on increasing the number of paramedics by hiring a recruitment consultant who will work with schools in the province and across Canada.
But in a news release, the union said it would like to see a pay raise for paramedics as a way to encourage people to join the field.
The release also said that each year, $6.5 million is put toward overtime pay — money the union would like to see allocated to pay raises.
"We feel paramedics and dispatchers, the job we do, we should be able to make a good living."