Paramedics deserve more

“Most trusted profession … least respected by our gov’t – highest trained, lowest paid ambos in Aus!!” and “Fix it Denis!!!” say some of the handwritten signs on Victorian ambulance doors, displaying paramedics’ frustration at protracted enterprise bargaining negotiations.

Victorian Ambulance paramedics are paid $25,000 less than their interstate peers. Premier Denis Napthine is refusing them a decent pay rise, even as he and his fellow parliamentarians award themselves massive pay increases.

The Ambulance Employees’ Association is asking for a 30 percent increase over three years to achieve pay parity. The Liberal government insists that any pay rise above 2.5 percent must be traded for productivity gains – yet it is refusing to recognise paramedics’ training.

Werribee ambulance paramedic Danny Hill spoke to Red Flag about the demand for pay parity, the challenges of the job and why the Napthine government needs to change its attitude.

What are the ambos fighting for?

All that we’re after is to get pay parity with other states. They have moved far ahead of us in other states because there they’ve taken into account new skills … Paramedics take on new equipment and new forms of treatment all the time, those are considered improvements. In Victoria we have the best cardiac arrest survivals and the best obstetrics treatments. Often it’s in our own time we learn these things. But the [Victorian] government doesn’t deem them productivity [improvements].

They also want us to surrender conditions like accident make-up pay and sick leave and annual leave. They want to push it to the limit. It’s really penny-pinching. How far can they take it? They’re asking us to give up part of our pay in order to get it back in another way. Those conditions aren’t perks; you need them to survive. Treating sick patients you get sick yourself, so you need the sick leave and you need that annual leave.

What are conditions like on the job?

If you feel valued in your job, you can do it, but if you don’t have decent pay and conditions, it’s a very challenging job, you wouldn’t do it. At some point we have to do something to retain our paramedics.

You can get injured from lifting a patient from the floor. We try to avoid hurting our backs, but some patients are in awkward positions when we get to them, for example someone who’s fallen in a garden.

Shoulder, hip and knee injuries are all common [among paramedics]. Back injuries are the most prevalent. People get psychological injuries; that’s also quite common, [caused by] abuse on the job, PTSD, organisational stress.

A survey by the paramedics’ union shows that 1500 – over half the ambulance service – are preparing to quit over the next five years. What is the impact of staff leaving on those who remain?

You lose a lot of experience from that; you see experience from paramedics around you. We’re so short of resources that when someone goes off sick, you can lose a whole crew. That happens regularly … You can have 10 to 20 crews down in a night. They might not replace all of them, so there might be 10 crews down. Crews that remain are twice as busy; you have to travel twice as far, and this all has an impact on patients.

When I started seven years ago, it used to only be like that on a Friday or Saturday night. Now it’s all of them.

Denis Napthine has suggested that your industrial action may threaten the safety of patients. What do you say to that?

We would never do anything to put patients’ lives at risk. Hearing that makes the troops bitter. Our campaign is focused on getting as much support from the public as possible. If I could talk to the premier, I would just explain the new technologies we’ve taken on. We’ve got some of the most advanced treatments for obstetrics emergencies. The saving for Victorian patients is such a fantastic thing, [but] at the moment they’re dismissing it and saying it doesn’t count.

I think the government needs to have a change in attitude towards emergency services. We need to be valued more. We’re not a business that’s there to make money. The pay and conditions have to be fair. We need respect from the employer.

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