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Issue # 1414      10 June 2009

Green Light for first ambo strike in 36 years

The Australian Electoral Commission announced last week 94 percent support for strike action in a ballot of Victorian paramedics on protected industrial action. The historic vote, conducted over the previous two weeks, clears the way for paramedics to dramatically ramp up their campaign against fatigue.

Year-long pay talks with the state government are deadlocked and a major sticking point is its refusal to support minimum 10-hour rest breaks between shifts. Ambulance Employees Australia state secretary Steve McGhie said he hoped last-ditch crisis talks currently underway in the Industrial Relations Commission could still avert strike-action.

“Paramedics don’t want to go on strike,” Mr McGhie said. “They voted almost unanimously to take this extreme action because they are dedicated professionals, determined to providing a safer ambulance service. Whatever happens paramedics will ensure the health and welfare of the Victorian community is not put at risk.

“But every day our paramedics are forced to make life and death decisions in a fatigued state because of insufficient fatigue breaks. That is unacceptable.

“For an entire year we’ve negotiated in good faith for proper breaks and fair wages. We have got nowhere,” Mr McGhie continued.

“Whether this strike goes ahead is now entirely in [Health Minister] Daniel Andrews’ hands. He can step in and make Ambulance Victoria Australia’s safest and best ambulance service.”

Paramedics have voted to enforce 10-hour fatigue breaks between shifts, along with 17 other types of industrial action. This action is aimed at ensuring they are properly rested and that any risk to the Victorian community from fatigued paramedics is reduced.

The action will force Ambulance Victoria to find other paramedics to cover the additional two hours of fatigue breaks that paramedics require to be properly rested for their next shift.

There are also stop-work meetings and various other bans, such as refusing to collect patient billing data, which would make Victoria’s ambulance service free.

“Victorian ambos face extreme workloads,” said Mr McGhie. “Many work more than 15 hours straight, often without meal breaks, and then need to be back working eight hours later.

“Our survey found many paramedics get just five hours sleep between shifts and are falling asleep driving and making clinical errors because of this relentless workload and lack of sleep between shifts.”

Only Victorian and Western Australian paramedics still have 8 hour minimum breaks. In 2007 Coroner Peter White held an inquest into the death of a 78-year old cardiac patient after paramedics accidentally administered morphine instead of adrenaline. He found the paramedics were fatigue-affected.

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