Paramedics condemn attempt to recruit replacement workers

The association representing paramedics in Newfoundland and Labrador says it was inappropriate for the Department of Health to use its list of retired emergency responders in the province to try to recruit possible replacement workers in a labour dispute.

The department sent a memo to current and former emergency medical responders (EMRs) and paramedics last month looking for anyone willing to step in to help with medical transports should Teamsters Local 855 members take job action.

The union, which represents most of the first responders employed by private firms in the eastern and central region, is in a dispute over wages.

The department offered higher wages to potential replacement workers than current employees receive, and offered to waive updated training requirements for those who have been out of the workforce.

“Our stance, particularly on the reinstating of retired paramedics for this purpose, is that we don’t agree with it,” Rodney Gaudet, president of the Paramedic Association of Newfoundland and Labrador, said in an email to SaltWire Network. “We were OK with the government obtaining a list of retired paramedics at the beginning of COVID, in the event there was a huge outbreak and a number of paramedic practitioners were sick or isolating. But to give licences to paramedics who wouldn’t have to do the necessary requirements that we all must do, when there are actually lots of registered/qualified paramedics available (but they are caught up in this dispute), is completely uncalled for and is a disgrace to our profession and our practitioners that work so hard to keep current.”

Gaudet said the association has already expressed its displeasure to the department over the move.

“We want to see this labour dispute settled with no loss of emergency coverage for our patients and we want this resolved so that it improves the overall system,“ he said.

Hubert Dawe, business agent for the Teamsters local, said plans to hold a strike vote are currently on hold, as the government has imposed a conciliation process.

“The minister of Environment and Climate Change issued an order for the matter to be presented to a conciliation board,” Dawe said this week. “This took away our right to conduct a vote on job action.”

He said the union can hold a vote following the conciliation board process if no progress is made.

The union has assured no emergency response or urgent patient or equipment transfers would be affected by job action.

The Department of Health defended its position in a statement issued Wednesday.

“In the event of a strike or lockout, residents will continue to have access to emergency ambulance services. The department is working with Eastern Health and Central Health to put contingency and communications plans in place,” it said. “Given our responsibility for the health and safety of the public, we have been exploring any and all options to reallocate and secure necessary resources to support emergency response and routine transfer services.”
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