Health and safety issues were a major focus at the Emergency and Security Services (ESS) meeting. The concerns discussed were numerous and widespread:
- Office and vehicular ergonomics for first responders, dispatchers, and administrative staff
- Mental health injury for first responders and dispatchers
- The emergence of presumptive workers’ compensation legislation regarding mental health injuries for first responders and dispatchers
- CUPE’s participation in campaigning for presumptive workers’ compensation legislation
- Growing demands on first responders and the dangers of fatigue because the growth in services has not kept pace with population growth and aging
- CUPE’s role in ensuring that a national paramedic health and safety survey and one on mental health injuries in BC recognize our concerns and will collect useful data
Health and safety has become a leading issue for the Emergency and Security Services sector across the country, requiring significant union resources.
Paramedics are also concerned about proposals by the Ontario government and various municipalities that fire services take on a larger role in responding to emergency medical calls. In Ontario, CUPE is battling an attempt to put paramedics on fire trucks, and earlier in the year fought off an attempt in Chatham Kent to have fire services take over EMS. There was significant discussion of campaigns to promote and expand paramedic services to meet the growing need for the service. We will need to work with municipal politicians and use evidence based arguments in our campaigns to win.
The ESS groups also discussed the ways that privatization is occurring in our sector and its effects.
Changing technology in 911 calls and the expanding influence of the Canadian Radio Television-Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) may result in radical changes to emergency calls and dispatch by enabling the sharing of medical information over mobile phones, regular phones and home computers. First responders may have information about the patient before they even arrive. Private corporations are promoting their services in making these changes to 911 dispatch, even offering to pay up-front capital costs in Quebec to get a foot in the door.
The privatization of patient transfers and related dispatch continues to spread. The growth of these private services is putting downward pressure on wages and service quality. CUPE members discussed the challenges we need to overcome in organizing in this emerging sub-sector.
ESS participants discussed the ways in which the growing role of paramedics in community paramedicine may counter privatization pressures and pressures to merge first responder roles. CUPE members from various provinces described their relationship with professional associations in paramedicine, the roles of Advanced Care and Primary Care Paramedics and struggles to expand or defend the use of Advanced Care Paramedics, and the campaign in Quebec against challenges to free collective bargaining.
Sector members felt that sharing challenges and victories was a useful way to understand the challenges the sector is facing across the country and find the most effective ways to protect workers in the sector. This was particularly true where one province was the first to deal with a specific issue, like Quebec’s involvement in CRTC issues affecting dispatch, and Ontario and BC’s experience with fire fighters in paramedicine.