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Legislation to stop ambulance strike

Ed Note: The following is a press release issued by the provincial government:

The province is taking action to restore full emergency care to  protect British Columbians, Minister of Health Services Kevin Falcon  announced today in introducing legislation to end the strike by CUPE 873, the union representing BC Ambulance Service (BCAS) paramedics and dispatchers.

"With the H1N1 pandemic impacting the acute care system and winter and the holiday season fast approaching, the public needs certainty that they'll have the care they need in an emergency," Falcon said. "The decision to introduce this legislation was a difficult one and certainly not one that we take lightly. But it was clear that after seven months of failed attempts to reach an agreement and with no hope for a negotiated settlement in sight, we had to act."

Falcon stated while the system is coping, pressure is increasing both in emergency departments and critical care areas across the province. He added health authorities are under further stress from increasing absenteeism, with up to 25 per cent of staff not reporting to work at BC Women's Hospital last week alone due to illness.

Falcon said despite an essential services order, the dispute has had a profound impact on service delivery.

"In the Lower Mainland, the number of ambulances out of service each month has jumped to 150, compared to just 12 per month before the strike began," said Falcon. "With the rest of our health care system already operating at full capacity to manage the impact of H1N1, we can't afford to have the ambulance service operating at less than peak effectiveness."

He added that every day the strike continues, it increases the risk to patients.

Falcon said the settlement outlined in the Ambulance Service Collective Agreement Act reflects the latest offer made to the union in September. The one-year deal is retroactive to April 1, 2009, and includes a competitive compensation increase of three per cent, in line with wage increases for other public sector workers in 2009.

"We believe this increase is more than generous at a time of global economic uncertainty," said Falcon. "We are also profoundly aware there is no more room in the BCAS budget to increase compensation without undermining service delivery."

Since April, the estimated cost impact of the strike is $9.2 million, which represents the cost of putting nine additional ambulances on the road for one year.

He noted the September offer had also included a further 1.2-per-cent increase, contingent on both sides finding efficiencies within the collective agreement, which the union flatly refused. As a result this amount was not included as part of the legislation, however, he noted BCAS would still be willing to work collaboratively with the union to achieve the 1.2 per cent if their position changed.

Falcon said he is also calling on the Minister of Labour to appoint an Industrial Inquiry Commissioner as soon as possible to identify options for repairing the broken labour relations structure within the ambulance service.