SUMMERSIDE – Island paramedics have been without a contract for nearly a year and it could be another year before arbitration talks begin on a new collective bargaining agreement.
Bill McKinnon, national representative for the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), said the contract expired on Dec. 31, 2012 and efforts at negotiations and conciliation have failed. The next step is arbitration and that may not begin until December 2014.
“We’re trying to find an arbitrator that both sides will agree to and one that won’t take us a year to get to,” McKinnon said. “Everybody seems comfortable with Bruce Outhouse but he’s booking into December of next year. That’s what his earliest (time) is and we’re still waiting to hear from the employer on whether or not they’re going to accept him because of that. Better a year out than not being able to find somebody we can agree to.”
McKinnon said there is a three-member board involved in the arbitration process, one member recommended by the employer, Medavie EMS, and the other by CUPE. The third member, who would chair the arbitration board, needs to be approved by both sides before being appointed.
McKinnon said the Justice Minister Janice Sherry has appointed the nominees proposed by the employer and the union and is awaiting their joint recommendation for the chair.
“If we don’t agree to a chair, she has the power to appoint one,” he said. “You don’t want government appointments if you can avoid it.”
McKinnon said changes were made to the Labour Act of P.E.I. in December 2010 where government removed the right of paramedics to strike and replaced it with interest arbitration
Interest arbitration means once a decision is made it is binding on all sides.
At issue are wages and the rights of casual employees.
He said P.E.I. paramedics make about 10 to 15 per cent less than their Nova Scotia counterparts.
“It’s the same employer, Medavie EMS and they have basically the same structure,” he said. “They’re contracted by the province to provide the service and Medavie EMS over there runs it, the same thing over here.”
Just as important are the casual issues, McKinnon said.
“Casual issues are a real concern,” he said. “Casuals make up about one-third of our members. Casual issues are they don’t have fundamental rights such as protection against unjust discipline or basic rights that permanent employees would have.” McKinnon said it’s time casual employees get recognized and receive some basic rights under the agreement.