Newfoundland and Labrador's House of Assembly will sit Monday for an emergency debate to enact legislation that would make private ambulance services essential in the province.
In a statement released late Saturday afternoon, Premier Andrew Furey said the ongoing labour dispute between Teamsters Local 855 and private ambulance operator Fewer's Ambulance Service Limited requires government to step in with the new Essential Ambulance Services Act.
More than 100 workers with seven private ambulance services across Newfoundland walked off the job Friday. Wages and pensions are at the heart of the dispute between the union and employer.
"Due to the urgent and critical nature of the situation created by this strike action and labour dispute, it raises serious concerns for the safety and well-being of residents of Newfoundland and Labrador. As such, it requires members of the House of Assembly to convene on Monday for an emergency debate to enact the Essential Ambulance Services Act," Furey's statement read.
"This Act will make private ambulance services essential, which is necessary in order to protect the safety of patients, particularly given the current challenges within the health care system across Canada, including in our province."
If the new act is passed, union members would be required to return to work until an essential services agreement is established. At that point a strike could resume.
The essential services agreement would be determined by both the employer and employees and would allow them to engage with the Labour Relations Board when necessary.
Right now, only public ambulances, operated through Newfoundland and Labrador's regional health authorities, are considered essential.
The seven ambulance services are all owned by Bob Fewer. He has not responded to any media inquiries since the union went public about its labour dispute in late December.
Those companies cover a wide area of Newfoundland, from Fogo Island on the northeast coast to Trepassey on the southern shore of the Avalon Peninsula, and Stephenville on the west coast.