By Andru McCracken

A new collective agreement between CUPE 873 Ambulance Paramedics and BCEHS (BC Emergency Health Services) is going to change how paramedics are paid and one rural paramedic is speaking up about it.

Until recently paramedics on call would receive four hours per shift at their full wage, regardless of whether they receive a call or not, but new changes to the collective agreement means that paramedics will no longer receive four hours of guaranteed pay, leaving them with just $2 per hour while they are on call.

Juliet Kaczmarek, a paramedic stationed in Oliver wrote BC’s Health Minister Adrian Dix asking for help.

“Smaller communities primarily rely on the services of casual paramedics. At the Oliver station, there is only one full-time position and the rest of the schedule is filled by casual employees,” she said. “[The] Ministry of Health is relying on casual paramedics to service rural communities as a cost-saving mechanism. Such an approach is grossly unfair to skilled paramedics who perform a highly valued service and is equally unfair to smaller communities that deserve the same standard as larger communities.”

Kaczmarek said doctors and nurses provide an essential service in the fight against the current pandemic.

“So too paramedics,” she said.

Sarah Morris, spokesperson for BC Emergency Health Services said her organization is committed to improving paramedic services in rural and remote communities.

“A new ‘scheduled on-call’ model will see hundreds of new scheduled positions with benefits, in rural and remote communities that have typically relied on on-call staffing,” said Morris.

However it is uncertain yet whether those positions will be coming to Valemount or to McBride.

Morris said that the Kilo Guarantee (the four guaranteed-pay hours) was a temporary measure to stabilize staffing and that it will be completely phased out, including in Valemount and McBride by late 2021.

“Meantime, we are working to mitigate the impact on those employees who do on-call work. BCEHS has made changes in our dispatch process to ensure that the ‘Kilo’ ambulances are activated first for hospital transfer work to ensure adequate work for on-call employees as much as possible,” said Morris.

“The new collective agreement marks a major advancement in our service model, and it’s going to take some time to determine the details and make sure we get it right.”

She said BCEHS has been evaluating communities’ needs.

“At this stage we don’t have community-level details to share, however we will announce any significant changes as soon as we can,” said Morris.