Nfld. & Labrador

Ambulance workers 'at their breaking point,' face uncertain future after funding pulled: union

A dispute between the province and Moore's Ambulance Service has left 22 employees in turmoil, according to their union, facing job losses and still owed $150,000 in unpaid wages.

Moore's Ambulance Service allegedly owes employees $150K in back pay

Employees of Moore's Ambulance Service, which services Conception Bay North, now face job losses after years of grappling with unpaid wages and the toll of mandatory overtime, the union said. (Glenn Payette/CBC News)

Ambulance workers caught in a dispute over contracts between the provincial government and their employers are "at their breaking point" due to overwork and are facing an uncertain future, according to their union.

The Department of Health and Community Services announced Friday it would no longer be supplying public funding to Moore's Ambulance Service, which covers calls in Clarke's Beach, Bay Roberts and Harbour Grace.

Charlie Smallwood, a representative from the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 904, said Monday that Moore's Ambulance workers have been shortchanged by the company and abandoned by the provincial government, leaving them "technically out of work" with no way to access tens of thousands of dollars in retroactive pay.

The situation has "left young families in turmoil, basically," Smallwood said.

The government has turned the lives of these workers upside down.- Charlie Smallwood 

Smallwood said the government's decision to terminate funding for the ambulance company, without ensuring its 22 workers received the $150,000 they are allegedly owed in unpaid wages, signaled that officials do not "care for [workers'] livelihood."

"Instead of insisting that the company sign an agreement and honour its obligations to its workers, the government has provided a 30-day termination notice to the company," Smallwood wrote in a letter to media. "This will leave ambulance workers without their jobs, without the retro wages owed to them and without any recourse.

"The government has turned the lives of these workers upside down with no regard to what will happen
next."

Company complaints

Health Minister John Haggie told reporters Monday that severing ties with the company doesn't mean service in the area will be affected.

"The funding for the service is there. It's not going away," he said, suggesting that two nearby companies expressed interest in taking over the area. They would have access to the funding that previously went to Moore's, Haggie said.

Health Minister John Haggie said Monday that negotiating with Moore's proved difficult. (CBC)

Haggie said his department had worked to negotiate a contract with Moore's since 2016, but unlike in talks with neighbouring companies, Moore's did not accept any offers and appeared to delay negotiations. 

The company had also been the subject of complaints, both by other ambulance operators and its own employees.

Neighbouring operators told the department they were having to pick up the slack when Moore's wasn't available, Haggie said.

Mandatory overtime

Employees, too, voiced concerns to the department over prolonged mandatory overtime and unpaid wages. 

Moore's chose not to pay the correct wage during overtime and holiday hours, according to Smallwood, leading to $150,000 owed to Moore's employees accumulated over the last three years.

"I feel an ethical and moral obligation to see these individuals compensated appropriated for the time they put in," Haggie said, but added government can't do much about getting workers the money they're owed. That's up to the employer, he said.

Long, mandatory shifts, especially after violent or upsetting calls, left first responders suffering, the union said, and now they're facing job losses. (iStock)

Smallwood disagreed, suggesting the department could effectively pay those wages by giving the funds to Moore's in trust, with legal consequences should the employer not fulfil their payroll obligations.

The company also forced first responders to take on extra shifts. Some employees were mandated to work 72 consecutive hours, scheduling practices that Haggie called "unsafe and unwise."

Smallwood said workers are "at their breaking point, being forced to work extra hours without the necessary time to decompress after critical calls," such as responding to the death of five-year-old Quinn Butt, whose father is now standing trial for alleged involvement in her death, Smallwood said.

"They see things that most of us wouldn't be able to deal with, and they need the proper time off to deal with it."

Moore's Ambulance Service declined to comment.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador 

With files from Katie Breen

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