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Victoria’s ambulance officers are the highest educated, yet worst-paid in the country – according to Jon Faine’s coverage this morning, the difference is $23,000 annually compared with their NSW colleagues. While money’s not everything, the government’s latest offer to Ambulance Employees Association (Victoria) works out to be $1/week extra, once differences in entitlements is accounted for.

A recent survey of 600 Victorian paramedics found that a third of the 55% of ambos planning on leaving in the next five years intended working in the industry interstate. We’re losing experienced officers faster than they can be replaced, leaving hundreds of shifts uncovered.

I’ve discussed the issue of ambulance ramping before but for those who’ve missed it, ramping is where patients are not able to be safely off-loaded to a hospital, because the emergency department’s so busy no nurse is available to take over their care. One extra nurse in our emergency departments at known peak times would free up to three vehicles and six officers, allowing faster road responses to emergencies. ANF (Vic.) proposed this during our negotiations and were told that it wouldn’t count as a productivity measure because it wasn’t a nursing improvement.

At the Victorian public hospital rally last month, AEA (Vic.) Assistant Secretary Phil Cavanagh spoke about the cost of ramping on our public system – every month 10,000 hours are lost because officers have to wait at hospitals. In some cases this means over ten ambulances waiting at just one hospital.

And the relationship goes both ways – the planned partial closure of Colac hospital’s emergency department has only been suspended, and may go ahead in the new financial year. Patients from Colac will have to drive over an hour and an additional 76k to Geelong (which itself is losing 26 beds), which is bad enough. But those needing ambulance transport will take the district’s sole overnight vehicle and crew out of commission for a minimum of two and a half hours. At the moment that means anyone needing emergency attention will have to wait: for the Colac officers to return, or for a vehicle from the (ramped, underserved) neighbouring areas of Geelong or Warrnambool.

As nurses and midwives did, and as teachers and their colleagues are currently doing, Victoria’s ambulance officers are fighting for their patients, their profession, and for the Victorian public.

At the run-down, unsafe and abandoned Sunshine station AEA (Vic.) today launched their Code Red campaign, including industrial action that defies the Baillieu government and Ambulance Victoria’s attempts to gag members (hmm, that’s strangely familiar – and on the one year anniversary of our own gag order…)

033General Secretary of the AEA, Steve McGhie, addressed officers about the lack of willingness of the government to negotiate in good faith, and reminded those present about the risks – to paramedics, because of extended shifts, reduced break times, increased stress and decreasing experience among the workforce, and to the public.

037Respect our work, value our ambos – the message is the same but the government is no better able to hear it.

035And, sadly, that’s what it’s all about. But the money that’s being saved comes at a high price, and fixing the problem later will be way more expensive than addressing it now.

Like nurses, midwives, teachers, fire fighters and other professionals who perform vital services to the community, Victoria’s ambulance officers are skilled, educated, committed, and united. They are acting in the best interests of the public, and the welfare of their industry, and they are not alone.

BEQKZKnCAAAMClm When a Federal Court order prevented ANF (Vic. branch) officials escorting striking nurses from hospitals, other unions stepped in. At the Alfred the AEA supported those courageous women and men able to stand up for their patients and their colleagues, and I had the pleasure of spending many hours with AEA (Vic.) Assistant Secretary Phil Cavanagh on the Commercial Road pavement.

I wish that Premier Baillieu’s learning curve were steeper – that he’d have realised that blatantly refusing to negotiate in anything approaching good faith only makes members more united. As nurses and midwives were resolute, as teachers and fire fighters remain resolute, our ambulance officers will not back down.

I wish the Premier prioritised the best interests of the communities he was elected to serve as highly as he does business interests. I wish he and his government were capable of long-term, long-range planning.

And I wish that there was no need for me to repay a debt to the Ambulance Employees Association. It is, however, my honour and my privilege to stand alongside my health care colleagues in their fight for equity, for safe conditions, for equitable pay.

We are all in this together. And the lives that ambulance officers are fighting for? They could as easily be yours, your family’s, your neighbours as anyone else.

To show your support, visit the AEA Facebook page, follow their parent union, @UnitedVoiceVic on Twitter, and watch this spot for a link to their petition.