City ordered to reinstate end-of-shift policy for paramedics

The City of Ottawa must reinstate a policy that allowed paramedics to be taken out of service in the last 30 minutes of their shift, an arbitrator ruled Friday.

Arbitrator rules for change in policy after provincial directive violated collective agreement

The city has been ordered to reinstate a policy that said paramedics couldn't respond to another emergency in the last 30 minutes of their shift. (Danny Globerman/CBC)

The City of Ottawa must reinstate a policy that allowed paramedics to be taken out of service in the last 30 minutes of their shift, an arbitrator ruled Friday.

The decision from arbitrator Brian Sheehan reverses a change the Ottawa Paramedic Service made in response to a provincial order after the province found Ottawa dispatchers were becoming too reliant on neighbouring rural municipalities to make up for a lack of available ambulances.

In March the Ministry of Health and Long-term Care directed Ottawa paramedics to end the practice of having a mandatory 30-minute period after dropping off a patient at a hospital where they can't respond to another emergency, as well as the practice of being taken out of service at the end of their shift.

But the union representing paramedics argued keeping ambulance crews active until the end of their shift meant paramedics weren't able to complete their end-of-shift duties without logging overtime.

Such a drastic change to the job needed to be negotiated in a collective agreement, the union argued.

The city countered that it had to make the change because of the provincial directive, and that it was an issue that fell outside the labour agreement.

But Sheehan sided with the union, and ordered the city "to make such changes as are required in order to allow for paramedics to be able to complete their duties within the standard hours of work."

He noted that since making the changes, the city has altered the deployment of its fleet to have other ambulances provide some coverage for crews going off shift, and is working on technological solutions that will allow crews to spend their last 15 minutes inside paramedic headquarters.

The city has 60 days to reinstate the end of shift policy.

Need time to study ruling, paramedic chief says

It's not clear how this decision will affect the city's ability to carry out the directive from the province.
Paramedic chief Peter Kelly wrote in a statement to Mayor Jim Watson and members of city council that staff will "require time to meaningfully assess its operational impacts and, as such, will have no further comment at this time.

"Staff will use this time to review the findings of the arbitrator and make any adjustments necessary to ensure the continued provision of seamless emergency medical care," he wrote.

The ministry's directive came after an investigation sparked by a complaint from the chief of Prescott-Russell Emergency Services over one particular day on Aug. 6, 2016, when its crews drove into Ottawa to respond to 13 emergencies.

Rural municipality paramedics have said their workloads have increased and complained that crews have been frustrated at having to answer calls in Ottawa while seeing Ottawa ambulances parked and not in service.