AMBULANCE OFFICER / PARAMEDIC EBA UPDATE
Today we held the 8th scheduled EBA meeting.
This meeting covered some important topics, but again there was no further discussion of one of the major proposals by SJA, the Clinical Appropriate Model of Care (CAMC). In addition to the topics below, discussion often veered towards the crisis currently facing St John, and as to how any of their proposals will address the main troubles facing the ambulance service…hugely insufficient SOC staffing with thousands of calls going unanswered each day, and insufficient operational staff, no fleet availability, and ramping.
While this occurs St John seem determined to take yet more staff off road to manage name badge placement, nail varnish colours and shoulder length hair.
Below follows a summary of the topics covered today:
Remove Travel Allowance for Casual Paramedics (SJA)
After the usual pleasantries the meeting began with SJA requesting AEAWA to respond to the proposed travel allowance clause. You may remember this proposed clause seeks to formally remove the travel allowance from Casual Paramedics. Superficially this would appear to be a minor/insignificant claim from SJA, however we suspect that this is part of a bigger scheme to vastly increase the number of Casual Paramedics in the longer term, in conjunction with the Intern/Qualified Paramedic model. SJA have recognised there is a significant and growing number of graduate Paramedics, and we believe they want to meet increasing demand by employing lower paid casual staff, whom will not be eligible for annual leave/sick leave/superannuation/long service leave. These Paramedics will have no job security, and will be used to match demand more cost effectively than overtime. HOWEVER, the AEAWA want an ambulance service that is properly resourced with permanent staff, to ensure a standby capacity as recommended by the 2009 Joyce Report (52.5%), not one that staffs it’s fleet ‘just enough’ to get through the day. We don’t need to tell our members that the service is more than busy enough to warrant many more permanent paramedics, as we see every day in the form of thousands of calls ‘re-queued’ to SOC, the delayed responses our patients receive, and shift extensions.
Special Operations Paramedics – On Call Case Study (SJA)
SJA provided further detail regarding the proposed ‘on call’ roster for Paramedic Special Ops (PSO’s), however there still remains far too much ambiguity in the outlined plan to allow scrutiny of the detail. SJA were advised that while we remain supportive of the concept of a reliable capability to respond to incidents requiring PSO’s, we need more detail, and perhaps they should consider a phased introduction of their ‘on call’ system that is tied to the promised increase in PSO numbers, to ensure this actually happens.
Special Operations Paramedics – Clarify Remuneration Claim (AEAWA)
The AEAWA want to retain PSO allowances but held off on further commitment regarding numeration pending further detail on the proposed PSO ‘on call’ system.
Discuss claim costings (SJA)
SJA provided further detail of their estimated costings (‘claims costing bank’) of the combined log of claims made by the representatives bargaining groups, and their equivalence (or impact) on any pay increase. For reference, their estimated costs are listed here.
A number of these calculations were challenged, such as those provided for the SAO Exam Leave claim. Here, SJA had budgeted 4 shifts leave for each and every SAO for every single exam, thereby forecasting an unrealistic ‘worst case scenario’. Clearly a student ambulance officer may have an exam on day 1 of their set, day 2, night 1 or night 2, and exams will not be on weekends, therefore they will generally only require only 1 or 2 days leave at most. We believe the costing/liability for St. John should at most be 50% of their stated projection.
Further, it was highlighted that SJA’s inclusion of Defence Service Leave on the ‘claim costings bank’ was insulting to those officers who volunteer in defence of our country, and should be removed from the ‘costing bank’ and regarded as a negligible cost. The AEAWA also challenged the assumption that an increase of 4 shifts DSL to 10 shifts would not result in a ‘3 fold increase in uptake’. We absolutely refute that people would sign up as a defence reservist simply to take advantage of what would still be a very conservative leave allocation of 10 days, given the commitment required and risks associated with serving our country overseas in the defence service.
Finally, SJA failed to outline, as requested, the ‘savings bank’ of their proposed ‘Clinical Appropriate Model of Care’. The total ‘claims costing bank’ (according to St John) equates to a +9.43% pay increase. However, we believe the CAMC model would produce savings which would vastly dwarf these ‘costs’.
Mental Health Leave
SJA response: NO
SJA have declined this on a cost basis stating that there was no other business unit that receives mental health leave, they believe 100% of staff would access this non cumulative leave, and the cost of supporting the mental health of front line first responders too high.
SJA do not see why operational employees can not ‘just access their personal leave’.
SJA believe Managers Discretionary Leave (MDL) is frequently used to provide employees with time off after critical incidents.
SJA refused to compare the 2 days ‘Leisure leave’ available to Administration and Support Services employees within St. John to our claim, stating that the 2 Leisure days were offered to Admin staff in compensation for 2 former public holidays previously available to staff (we’re investigating this).
The AEAWA argued that two independent enquiries into St. John (Pheonix Report and Chief Psychiatrist Report) in relation to the management of staff and the exposure to trauma and mental health impacts on first responders highlighted leave inflexibility as one of the major failures, preventing staff from managing their own mental health and level of burn out, and being able to act when they recognise a build of of stress. We strongly feel that the work undertaken by first responders cannot be compared to other ‘business units’, and this comparison should not determine leave entitlements.
Further, the AEAWA argued that MDL requires a disclosure of an individual’s mental health concerns to a manager not trained to handle such information, and raises confidentiality issues. Further, should an officer be suffering stress and anxiety, disclosing that information and having an awkward conversation with an Area Manager is likely to be the last thing they want to do.
SJA Response: NO
You will remember the AEAWA proposed a pandemic clause which mirrors the provisions of the WA Government for public sector employees, but only claims 8 shifts of paid leave (which would cover most isolation events).
St John declined outright this AEAWA claim, despite a greater level (20 days) of leave being offered to all WA public sector employees.
St. John believe the costs of such a claim ‘could be huge’ should community transmission occur.
The AEAWA argued that we have had members with minor ailments and allergies who have been sent home by management, which would not have prevented them working in previous years, and members who have been determined they must isolate by SJA due to travel, in contradiction to official advice, who have had their leave balances been decimated as a direct result.
The AEAWA remain open to developing a clause suitable to both parties, but at this stage SJA are not willing to entertain any cover for pandemic related leave.
SJA to respond to – Increase to Special leave Accrual Claims
SJA Response: Agreed (!)
The AEAWA successfully argued that it makes business sense to allow greater flexibility in special leave as this will mean SJA would be able to reduce unplanned absence and plan appropriate coverage for Special Leave absence. St. John have agreed to allow officers to accrue special leave up to positive 96 hours. The ability to go negative 48 hours will remain, however, St John intend to limit the amount of special leave which can be booked off in any one instance to 96 hours.
SJA to respond to – Portability across Country and Metro Claims
St. John have agreed to provide a draft revised clause which would improve special leave portability between metro and country.
SJA to respond to – Special Leave Percentage Increase Claims
SJA Response: NO
The AEAWA sought to increase the number of special leave spots available from 6% to 8%
SJA feels that, being a percentage figure the number of spots grows in conjunction with the established vehicles. However, as was highlighted that the number of ‘establishment vehicles’ haven’t grown in recent years, despite increases in staff number, as establishment does not include demand support vehicles, short shift etc.
St. John declined on the basis that most special leave spots are generally always full on weekends. It was countered that most ‘unplanned leave’ (book-offs) also occur on weekends and so therefore the lack of special leave spots could well be correlated to unplanned leave. Perhaps by increasing special leave spots available, there would be a reduction in unplanned leave and book offs on weekends. The AEAWA contend that increasing special leave spots may well see a reduction in unplanned leave, and enable SJA to adequately plan and fill those vacancies in advance, rather than trying to cover weekend shifts with ICBs.
SAO Exam Leave Claims
SJA Response: NO
SJA feel that the organisation already sufficiently makes arrangements to enable SAO’s to attend exams and not be unfairly disadvantaged. We disagree.
The AEAWA feel that this is not the case and outlined that we have represented several officers recently who have had to sit exams after a night shift, and that the organisation should feel obligated to better facilitate fair and equitable time off for these students, given that passing these exams are a pre-requisite to progression and employment within SJA. If SJA does have mechanisms, they are not well known and not fairly applied, therefore we would like guarantees embedded in the EBA.
SJA Update regarding Job Share
St. John confirmed that the list is being updated and will be communicated to all staff via email in the coming weeks.
Job Share in Country
St John have committed to developing a process and system to allow job share in country, we await further details before we can comment.
SJA have responded to the AEAWA Meal Break claim by indicating a willingness to work through how a system involving meal breaks *might* work. Whilst this was encouraging (and somewhat surprising given the raft of ‘NO’ responses so far from SJA), we should be aware that this stated willingness to consider meal breaks SJA was given in the same sentence as ‘seeing a number of difficulties and potential barriers’.
As mentioned before, the AEAWA see the ability to enjoy an meal break as a hallmark of a modern, progressive ambulance service (we are the only ambulance service without meal breaks), but more importantly we feel that a service needs to be adequately resourced in order to schedule meal breaks while maintaining capacity. We feel that meal breaks are therefore required to force St John to resource the service sufficiently. Details will be discussed in future meetings including what happens if a meal break is missed, and whether this becomes a financial penalty etc. We will be working with our interstate independent union colleagues to gain their experiences on the meal break issues.
Commencement of Shift Equipment check
SJA state that they are open to working through how this *might* work, but are still considering the proposals of the AEAWA. Further discussion will take place at future meetings.
SJA Response: still working through the claims, though they also stressed the ‘nature of the ambulance business’ meaning shift extensions are somewhat inevitable. SJA argue that if shift extensions were to be removed completely ‘they wouldn’t be able to give anyone a job in the last 1.5 hours of their shift’.
The AEAWA completely acknowledge the unpredictable nature of ambulance work, but there are a number of mechanisms we believe could be in place that would balance an employee’s right to (occasionally) finish on time and spend time with loved ones, while still maintaining an emergency response. In a well resourced service these two objectives should not be mutually exclusive.
The next meeting is scheduled for 9th June 2021. St. John indicated we will likely go to weekly meetings after the 9th June.
The committee would like to again advise our members that this negotiation promises to be one of the toughest in memory, and despite apparent progress on some issues today, there remain a number of conditions very much under threat (CAMC and the average industry wage in WA, ad-hoc movement across shift colours, permanency etc). Once removed, these conditions will generally never return and so we must stand together to protect what has been hard fought and won by our colleagues in previous years.
We thank our members for their continued support.
AEAWA Negotiation Team