‘Paramedics will shut down triple 0’: Boycott to go ahead as pay negotiations stall

  • Published December 1, 2023
  • Industries

Sydney Morning Herald, 1 December 2023

NSW’s triple zero system will “collapse” on New Year’s Eve, the state government has warned, with almost 2000 paramedics withholding their registrations amid failed pay negotiations, and the premier conceding the state does not have the money to fund the demands.

The Health Services Union met Health Minister Ryan Park and Industrial Relations Minister Sophie Cotsis on Friday morning in a bid to stop the industrial action that has seen 1959 paramedics refuse to re-register with the professional regulator. NSW Ambulance employs 4952 paramedics.

Without registration, paramedics are legally unable to attend triple zero calls. While renewals were due by November 30, there is a grace period before they are removed from the register on January 1.

“We are deeply disappointed and paramedics feel betrayed,” union boss Gerard Hayes said. “The paramedics supported the government before the election and promises were made. The government can’t blame our people for this, they were led down a garden path.”

The union has consistently argued that pay should reflect the increasingly complex clinical and public health tasks now required, including diagnosing patients and administering medicines that prevent heart attack sufferers from deteriorating.

The 20 per cent pay rise the HSU is asking for would be in addition to the $3500 flat increase negotiated by the union in July, which gave low-paid staff such as hospital cleaners an 8 per cent pay bump.

Minns said he would meet with the unions.

“We can’t have a situation where triple 0 doesn’t work on New Year’s Eve, one of the busiest days on the calendar when it comes to triple 0 call-outs and emergencies. We need to make sure that this industrial relations action doesn’t spill into having unintended consequences where people who are very sick or could potentially die, can’t access a paramedic or ambulance to get to hospital,” Minns said.

“So far in the negotiations we’ve had demands from the union of between 25 and 45 per cent, and we don’t have the funds for that quantum of increase in pay in NSW. Does that mean we can’t do anything? No. It means we can get around the table and work out a deal.”

Park added: “This will be industrial action that will shut down triple zero. We cannot collapse triple 0 at midnight New Year’s Eve.”

NSW Health sent a letter to paramedics late on Friday, threatening to withhold pay from those who failed to renew registration by December 31. It was signed by Acting Secretary Deborah Wilcox.

The union later said in a statement: “The premier is correct to point to serious disruption starting from New Year’s Day. If he kept his promise to recognise the life-saving skills and responsibilities of paramedics with professional pay we could avoid this. Responsibility lies squarely in his lap.

“It’s pretty hard to fathom the argument that there’s no money for people who resuscitate kids on the side of the road and rush them to hospital. The government can find $16 million to host cage fights, but apparently there’s no money to stop paramedics leaving for Queensland. It’s all about priorities.”

Shadow health minister Matt Kean described the negotiation breakdown as a “health crisis.”

“Chris Minns’ bungling has slashed our paramedics’ workforce by 2000 people, and it’s a health crisis of their own making,” he said.

“They looked paramedics in the eye before the election and promised huge pay increases which they never had any intention of delivering. It’s concerning, and it’s shameful.”

The meeting followed revelations by this masthead that one in 12 NSW Ambulance employees has or has had a Work Cover claim for a psychological injury in the last two years, with paramedics telling the Herald of their “guilt” of not being able to save lives as a result of “an overburdened health system” making them sick.

Friday’s meeting followed failed discussions between the union and state government on Monday, with Acting Health Secretary Deborah Wilcox writing to Hayes in the aftermath to propose the parties engage industrial relations expert Pete Kite, SC, to “resolve this matter by determining the appropriate remuneration of paramedics and terms of a new award”.

Wilcox said NSW Health would also look to commission Mercer “to complete a rapid analysis to assist the arbitrator in reaching his determination of remuneration rates.” The arbitration, Wilcox said, would be contingent on “calling off and not resuming all ongoing industrial action including the non-registration campaign for the duration of the arbitration”.

But Hayes said the HSU could not commit to a “lucky dip” arbitration with an “uncertain outcome”, and that the union had refused to sign on.