"When you look at how busy our paramedics are, I just can’t see how you could cut the service without putting lives at risk.” — Michelle Gawronsky, MGEU President
Winnipeg (15 Dec. 2017) — The Winnipeg city council’s executive committee unanimously endorsed a proposal to direct the city administration to provide options on how to return ambulance services to either the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority (WRHA) or a new provincial agency (Shared Health Services).
Government in Manitoba at odds over how to fund EMS
The request to offload the responsibility was raised after the province, through the WRHA, informed the city that it would freeze EMS funding at 2016 levels — thus creating a financial shortfall for the city of $2.5 million for 2017 and $4.6 million for 2018.
Councillors arguing to transfer the service to the province, including Coun. Scott Gillingham, chairman of council’s finance committee, say that health care is a provincial responsibility, and therefore, the responsibility to deliver this kind of vital medical service rests with the provincial government.
The announcement surprised Winnipeg paramedics, who have been employed by the City of Winnipeg for many years, but it’s not the first time such a funding dispute has arisen.
“This isn’t the first time the city and the province have disagreed on how to fund this service. But at the same time, we have to take this seriously,” says Michelle Gawronsky, President of the Manitoba Government and General Employees' Union (MGEU/NUPGE). “Our paramedics are worried because they have no sense of how this might affect the job they do, or the care they provide. We need to see the details of what this would look like before being able to determine if it would be good for patients and paramedics.”
With previous cuts to health care services, new concerns about more reduced services
Gawronsky added that some Winnipeg paramedics have also expressed concerns over job losses, which she says would be dangerous, given all of the other cuts happening in health care right now.
“It would be irresponsible for the province or the city to place more strain on the health care system right now and put families at risk. When you look at how busy our paramedics are, I just can’t see how you could cut the service without putting lives at risk,” Gawronsky said.
The proposed transfer of responsibility would take some time, particularly since Shared Health Services doesn’t exist yet. Gawronsky says the union is examining how it could affect members, adding that if any new employer failed to honour the paramedics’ seniority, wages, and benefits under their current collective agreement, it would immediately set the relationship off on the wrong foot.
“We are preparing for all possibilities to make sure our members in Local 911 are protected. If it came to that point, and this potential new employer suggested they wouldn’t honour things like seniority and wages from the existing collective agreement, then our union would take whatever actions necessary to stand up for our members," Gawronsky said.
MGEU/NUPGE awaits report with options for transition of EMS
City administrators have been instructed to return within 90 days to the executive policy committee with a report outlining detailed options to transition responsibility for ambulance services to Shared Health/WRHA. The MGEU/NUPGE will be monitoring this process closely, and will keep Local 911 members informed of any developments.
“The key right now is for the province and city to step up and do what people elected them to do," says Gawronsky. "Sit down and talk about this to find a resolution so that our members can continue to provide quality EMS services."
The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) is one of Canada's largest labour organizations with over 370,000 members. Our mission is to improve the lives of working families and to build a stronger Canada by ensuring our common wealth is used for the common good. — NUPGE