Pay raise may improve islands ambulance service

Here and across B.C., part-time paramedics will soon be paid the same hourly wage as full-timers.

Rising pay for part-time and on-call paramedics could lead to better ambulance service on Haida Gwaii.

Here and across B.C., part-time paramedics will soon be paid the same hourly wage as full-timers.

Since April 7, any part-time primary care paramedic in B.C. with under five years’ service saw his or her wage go up from $22.64 to $27.40 an hour.

Next year, it will rise again to match the full-time wage of $32.16 an hour.

“It’s a significant jump,” says Cameron Eby, a union executive for Ambulance Paramedics of BC.

Besides the wage boost, the B.C. Ambulance Service recently designated regular part-time paramedics as a distinct job category, separate from paramedics who work strictly on call.

For years, Eby said a key obstacle to recruiting and retaining paramedics in places like Haida Gwaii is that many part-timers couldn’t count on regular hours on a shift with no calls, they made just $2 an hour in ‘pager pay.’

With the new job category, Eby hopes BC Ambulance Service will be able to hire regular part-time paramedics in Haida Gwaii and other places with relatively low call volumes.

“Certainly we’re hopeful, from the union’s point of view, that the increased rate of pay will help with recruitment and retention,” he said.

“But we’re well aware that it’s not much use to you to have that $10 an hour raise if you’re not actually getting any calls, and you’re stuck at $2 an hour for carrying a pager,” he added.

“That’s still the larger problem.”

In a separate, temporary move made as part of the B.C. government’s response to the fentanyl crisis, even on-call paramedics in northern B.C. have lately been guaranteed a minimum of four hours’ regular pay per shift.

The pilot project started in late November, and was originally expected to last a single month. But it was later extended to March 31, and is now continuing until further notice.

“It’s had a profound effect on the staffing in northern B.C.,” said Eby.

“They’ve got ambulance stations where in a month, they would have 50 to 60 on-call shifts without staff. After this change, it’s down to four or five.”

Eby acknowledged that the province has to consider the budget impact of the four-hour guarantee.

Still, he noted that after five months, the pilot already shows that northern B.C.’s recruitment and retention problem isn’t caused by a lack of trained paramedics who want to work here they just need more than $2 ‘pager pay’ to stay on.

“There are paramedics willing to work, if you pay them,” he said.