Paramedics are threatening industrial over an $80 fee the New South Wales government has refused to waive.
The state’s paramedics have until March 31 to get a Working With Children Check clearance, but the Australian Paramedics Association NSW says the $80 fee should be an employer cost.
APA NSW secretary Steve Pearce accused Health Minister Brad Hazzard of a “de facto money grab”.
He’s given the government and NSW Ambulance 14 days to solve the dispute before the union turns to “any industrial strategies necessary”.
One possible action would be to waive all ambulance fees for patients, Mr Pearce said.
“It’s one of the industrial tools that we have available to us. We’ve given the government 14 days to actually resolve this, and come to the table with some respect for paramedics,” Mr Pearce told The New Daily on Wednesday.
“If that doesn’t happen, then we will certainly take some direction from our membership and that could be that kind of thing [waiving ambulance charges], or there are a lot of other options that we have available.”
Patients are currently charged $372 for an ambulance plus $3.35 per kilometre.
While all industrial action was on the table, Mr Pearce ruled out a strike.
“In terms of withdrawing our labour completely, paramedics would never do that. We want to make sure that our emergency coverage is always at the centre of what we do so that people are safe,” Mr Pearce said.
NSW Police were the only public sector employees exempt from paying the Working With Children Check (WWCC) fee. Nurses and teachers have already paid the $80.
Mr Pearce did not accept the argument that paramedics should pay it simply because nurses and teachers footed the bill.
“Paramedics have had enough,” Mr Pearce said.
“We don’t really mind how the NSW government sorts this out, as long as they understand that paramedics aren’t gonna be paying for it.”
He estimated it would cost the government about $250,000 to waive the fees for NSW paramedics.
The workers were first informed of the WWCC requirement in an email about 18 months ago.
“Paramedics immediately said, ‘What is this? This is not right’. We have no problem undergoing any check to make sure the public are sure that every paramedic that’s treating their kids should be, but this is a ministerial money grab, and certainly an employer cost,” Mr Pearce said.
He claimed paramedics have had basic working conditions deteriorate for three years.
“Our members want to make clear to the NSW government that they’ve had enough. They’ve had enough of their conditions being stomped on. They feel like they’ve been taken advantage of and they’ve hit the wall.
“We can say that this is a long-standing pattern of behaviour where paramedics continue to have their conditions stomped on and the government will not come to the table, and that needs to change.”
The union accused NSW Ambulance of bullying paramedics into paying the fee sooner in an APA NSW member update sent out on Wednesday.
This had “emboldened paramedics to remain steadfast on our stand”, the member update said.
“To use the protection of children as an excuse for wage theft is a new low for the NSW government,” it said.
An earlier member update also called on paramedics who already had their WWCC to withhold it from NSW Ambulance in solidarity.
The New Daily contacted NSW Ambulance and the Health Minister.