Ambulance officers in a healthier state after small victory

By SAMANTHA HEALY

AMBULANCE officers have won the first round of negotiations with the NSW Ambulance Service and NSW Government, with the introduction of a Death and Disability Scheme for paramedics.

The scheme will mean Northern Rivers ambulance officers and their colleagues across the State will be supported financially if they sustain a serious injury, and their families will be supported should they die while performing their often lifesaving duties.

"It's a case of the little mouse that roared," Ben Fisher, who is president of the Far North Coast Health Services Union Ambulance sub-branch, said yesterday.

"Daily, ambulance officers face dangerous situations, domestics, brawls, people with weapons, mental health issues. The propensity towards violence is increasing. "We are often at the front line with no protection, sometimes before police arrive.

"This is a good result. We will be protected, our families' livelihoods will be protected."

Last week, ambulance officers statewide refused to charge patients for transport as part of their protests for better work and pay conditions.

On Friday, the NSW Health Department and the HSU filed an agreement with the NSW Industrial Relations Commission (IRC) for the introduction of the Death and Disability Scheme which will be backdated to November 10, 2006.

The NSW Government has promised to add $30 million to the scheme over the next four years, with an additional back payment of $4.8 million.

Patients will now be charged for transport, and threats of industrial action during APEC have been averted, but negotiations about base hourly pay rates and allowances for on-call work, overtime and missed meal breaks continue.

"The fact is, if you need a plumber on a Sunday you pay for one," Mr Fisher said. "If I'm on call and I have to go out at 2am to a head-on (crash) so be it but if you're on call your life essentially stops.

"Management have been trying to take away or decrease our existing conditions. "It's blatant penny-pinching and an erosion of our existing conditions.

"Almost all recruits have a degree and they are earning less than they did when they were working a casual job. "But we are happy with the negotiations and agreements so far."



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