Montreal, Laval paramedics' workload has become unbearable, says union

·3 min read
Montreal, Laval paramedics' workload has become unbearable, says union

The union representing Urgences-santé paramedics, which covers the territories of Montreal and Laval, is urging staff to take their lunch hour Monday in protest against what it calls unacceptable working conditions.

"There will be the watchword to simply allow paramedics who are already exhausted by COVID — but especially by the overload of work — to go eat," said Claude Lamarche, interim president of the Syndicat du préhospitalier affilié à la Confédération des syndicats nationaux (SP-CSN), in a phone interview.

He says the pressure tactics won't affect medical services because they won't allow a full meal break, he said, precisely because they must always provide services to the population.

"It will still allow a slightly larger meal break than what the employer is required to give, which means half an hour."

According to him, these lunch breaks are often reduced, cancelled, or must be taken while employees are stuck in traffic, in an ambulance which has just transported a patient and hasn't been cleaned.

"There is no paramedic who will refuse to take a call even if he's been waiting for three hours for his meal break," when it comes to life and death, he said.

However, he opposes against the idea that "it comes on a daily basis, not to have a break for priorities that are very, very low", for example for a non-urgent call that would have been made the day before.

Stéphane Smith, a spokesperson for Urgences-santé, called on the ministry and the union to find solutions to the heavy workload caused by the staff shortage.

Work overload

Lamarche criticized the regular use of mandatory overtime, saying employees "are jumping ship" and that "it's very worrisome."

Mandatory overtime creates a vicious circle, he says, as workers refuse more extra shifts in order to take days off. He also maintained that less than 50 per cent of paramedics work night shifts.

"We need backup, we need support," he added.

Smith confirmed that paramedics are lacking, especially during weekend nights, and that managers who have the necessary training must take shifts.

"In the last year, there has been almost no hiring," he said. "Demand is high, and with the number of employees on the decline, there are consequences for employees who are there now."

WATCH | Behind the sirens: A night with a paramedic supervisor in Montreal:

Smith partly blamed the SP-CSN for recruitment challenges. One of the pressure tactics used during negotiations for the renewal of the collective agreement last year was not to take on any trainees. The union argued that many other employers offered internships, so students wouldn't struggle to get their diploma.

To attract labour or make overtime appealing, the union is asking for incentive measures, particularly financial incentives.

"We are not competitive on the market," compared to the private sector that serves other regions, Lamarche said.

Urgences-santé refused to comment because of an agreement in principle that has not yet been signed or made public.

For Smith, paramedics should be allowed to send patients to health services that are not emergency rooms and that could better meet their needs.

Currently paramedics have to bring all patients to emergency departments, which can become a waste of time, he said.

Christian Dubé, Quebec's minister of health, announced last month that his ministry would authorize regulatory paramedicine in the hope of referring patients to the right health-care professional, as per Quebec's new health plan, instead of systemically taking them to the emergency room.

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