Five hundred ambulance workers rallied outside the Doncaster Ambulance Station in Victoria on January 22. Led by Ambulance Employees Australia (AEA), workers have been fighting for pay equity with ambulance workers in other Australian states and to protect their conditions for 18 months.
The rally began with spirited chants, such as “won’t surrender, won’t back down, paramedics stand their ground.” Many car drivers passing the rally blew their horns in support.
David Tull, a Seaford union delegate, addressed the crowd and put a no-confidence motion in Ambulance Victoria CEO Greg Sassella — the sole provider of ambulances in Victoria. It was passed unanimously.
Tull told Green Left Weekly that Victorian ambulance workers get 30% less pay than their counterparts in other Australian states. This has been the case for several years while Victorian paramedics are achieving world-class standards with cardiac arrest and always undertaking clinical trials to further improve pre-hospital care.
The state government is offering the paramedics less than their government wages policy and trying to take away conditions, such as eliminating breaks in a 14-hour shift. It is also trying to replace paramedics with first-aiders across the state.
AEA members are also concerned about hospital ramping, which causes paramedics to spend more than a 1000 hours each month queued outside Melbourne hospitals and has doubled in three years. Paramedics were not allowed to talk publicly about such problems in Victoria’s health system. They would be disciplined if they did.
After the AEA made an application for protected action to Fairwork Australia, AEA members are only now (and only while they have the “protected action” status) able to alert the public about the true state of Victoria’s health system.
Tull said this was a form of whistleblowing. He said that if any AEA member told a lie about the health system, they would be sacked. However, Victoria’s health minister, David Davis, has been distorting the truth about the state of the health system and the AEA campaign.
The campaign is also about protecting the health of paramedics. Due to the demands of their job, many workers are fatigued and stressed. They have a suicide rate 10% higher than the national average. Their work has required increased skills in recent years. Night shifts are 14 hours with only two 30-minute breaks, which means that the first meal break is often after midnight.
The knowledge that the health system is failing them and the public is leading to demoralisation. Davis is in denial about the pressure paramedics face and the crisis in the hospital system.
The longer the government has denied the AEA members pay justice and addressed their working conditions, the stronger the AEA campaign has become. More paramedics have been steadily joining the campaign and the Victorian public has been increasingly enlightened about the issues.