The St Johns Industrial Dispute – #HealthyAmbosSaveLives

Written By: - Date published: 10:43 am, January 7th, 2017 - 51 comments
Categories: Abuse of power, class war, health and safety, jobs, labour, national, same old national, Social issues, the praiseworthy and the pitiful, Unions, wages, workers' rights, you couldn't make this shit up - Tags: ,

In 2015 the Government passed changes to the Employment Relations Act.  Some of the changes were clearly ideological and designed to weaken the position of unions.

The Government pressed on with the charges even though Business New Zealand chief executive Phil O’Reilly said at the time that the balance of power between employers and employees is fine at it is.  He also said that wage increases should match productivity and growth which is interesting as productivity has grown 45% since 1992 but wages growth is only 12%.

Labour strenuously opposed the changes at the time and said this in its minority report to the bill:

Labour Party members of the committee are opposed to the Employment Relations Amendment Bill. Most of the changes in the bill have been undertaken against the advice of officials, are contrary to New Zealand’s international obligations, and are a backwards leap in employment relationships towards the failed paradigm of the 1990s. The bill continues the flawed logic that employers, who at common law not only control the workplace but have the benefit of the implied duty of every employee to obey the employer’s instructions, somehow need more statutory tools to defeat the right of those who freely choose to join a union and exercise the legitimate benefits of belonging to a union, such as collective bargaining.

The effects of this bill will be to impact negatively on wages in general through a deliberate weakening of the already diminished bargaining strength of employees and the removal of protections for workers when they are most vulnerable. It will do nothing to improve the quest for high-skill, high-wage, and highly productive workplaces built on good-quality and mutually respectful employment relationships.

One of the changes was to allow parties to the Employment Relations Authority to declare that bargaining has ended.  This is a powerful tool.  All an employer has to do is ensure that bargaining has concluded then no improvements to wages or conditions can occur.

Another of the changes was to allow “proportionate pay reductions as a response to partial strikes”.  This never made sense to me because if an employee decided to “work to rule”, that is do the minimum required under their employment contract, they could still have their wages cut even though they were doing what their contract required.

These are sorts of powers that Talleys salivated over and you would have thought they would have been the first employer to attempt to exercise this power.  But instead it is St Johns Ambulance who has engaged in some pretty shady action in attempting to resolve an industrial dispute with its drivers who are wanting nothing more than better work life balance and slightly better pay.

The essence of the dispute is that First Union is seeking for its members a 2% pay rise and extended leave benefits.  If you read the Ambulance Professionals First Facebook page there are harrowing tales of work place conditions.  The work is highly stressful and requiring officers to work 9 hour shifts without a break and to send single crews to emergencies is unfathomable.

The details of what the Ambulance drivers are seeking are set out in the healthyambossavelives.nz website:

Healthy Ambos Save Lives is a campaign promoting adequate funding and use of funds for the Ambulance Service operating across New Zealand.  We believe in an effective public healthcare system that works in the interests of New Zealanders.

Ambulance Professionals provide fast and skilled care to the community; they are there, often at the most traumatic times of our lives. Ambulance Professionals need a work environment that allows them to perform at their best at all times.

Fighting fatigue: 

  • Healthy Ambos Save Lives is about  Ambulance Professionals receiving rest and meal breaks to ensure that they are fit to make the right decisions on the job to save lives.
  • Healthy Ambos Save Lives is about hours of work being realistic, workable and safe.

Supporting Wellness:

  • Healthy Ambos Save Lives is about Ambulance Professionals receiving suitable time to spend with family and friends.
  • Healthy Ambos Save Lives is about recognising the impact on Ambulance Professionals’ emotional and mental wellness from their line of work.

Safe and skilled staffing levels:

  • Healthy Ambos Save Lives is about all Ambulances being fully crewed with skilled staff so that patients get the best care possible and Ambulance Professionals are safe in vulnerable situations.
  • Healthy Ambos Save Lives is about ensuring all Ambulance Professionals in New Zealand are fairly rewarded for the service they provide.

Healthy Ambos Save Lives is an Ambulance Professionals First campaign initiated by FIRST Union.

To further their campaign the workers are wearing a t-shirt with the URL of the campaign website while they are working.  St Johns has chosen to dock workers 10% of their wages if they wear these T shirts instead of a high visibility vest.  How can that be proportionate?  And what is it that causes employers to be so worried about t-shirts?

St Johns has also applied to withdraw from bargaining without concluding a collective agreement with First Union and has the dubious distinction of being the first employer ever to do so.

From Newstalk ZB:

… First Union maintains it has received confirmation that St John has applied to the Employment Relations Authority to withdraw from bargaining, without coming to a collective agreement.

“It was a foolish move by St John,” First Union spokesperson Jarod Abott said. “It goes to show the true mentality of their current management. It’s quite disappointing.”

Abbott believes it’s unlikely they’ll be successful, because if they are they’ll be the first company to be under the new Employment Relations Act.

“There’s really no evidence from them that they’ve tried to actually settle with us,” he said. “In fact some of the issues on the table haven’t even been discussed yet.”

Last month, paramedics told Newstalk ZB that under-staffing and single-crewing in certain areas was leading to patients dying “on a regular basis”.

“Your eyeballs are hanging out and you know it’s all about chasing numbers not about getting the right care to people,” one officer said on condition of anonymity. “That’s really frustrating and demoralising.”

St John’s problem is that its income is fairly well static although with assets of $263 million as at June 2015 the organisation does not appear to be that broke that it cannot afford to treat its employees properly.

What can you do?  There is a petition Health Ambos Save Lives that you can sign and a strike fund you can pay into. And you should let St Johns know what you think of its actions.

51 comments on “The St Johns Industrial Dispute – #HealthyAmbosSaveLives”

  1. Carolyn_nth 1

    St John’s Ambulances perform an essential public service. They should be adequately funded, and the workers should have fair pay and conditions so they can do a good job, plus have good work-life balance.

    And the 10% docking of wages for a t-shirt really does seem brutal and intimidation.
    The Natzi’s employment law changes as in MS’s post, need to be repealed by a left government.

  2. millsy 2

    This is what you get when you use a charity to run an ambulance service.

    St John’s have shown themselves time and time again that they are not up to the job, making people wait hours in pain for a ambulance to come, putting people on hold or playing phone tag, screwing their workers over, charging people exorbitant amounts so its for them cheaper to take a taxi, so on a so forth.

    Time for St Johns to stick to providing Zambucks at rugby games and for a proper publicly owned national ambulance service, run along the lines of the FDNY to be set up.

    Might put a few members of the blazer brigade’s noses out of joint, but who cares what they think.

    • Venezia 2.1

      I agree with Millsy.

    • Carolyn_nth 2.2

      I don’t have any personal knowledge of the StJ failings you mention. But I do think, as the ambulance service is an essential public one, it should be directly state funded and managed public service.

      The neoliberal ethos has been to diminish public services, and encourage outsourcing to NGOs and/or privatisation. This results in poor services for the majority, while the wealthiest get the best services, and siphon off the profits.

      • Gristle 2.2.1

        I agree CN. I have never understood why the ambulance service and the helicopter air ambulance services are not 100% government funded. Further, why does Starship hospital go begging for donations?

      • millsy 2.2.2

        “…I don’t have any personal knowledge of the StJ failings you mention..”

        Google “St John failings”. You will get article after article where this organisation has stuffed up.

        • Carolyn_nth 2.2.2.1

          Hmmm… I had to narrow the search down more because some of the links were to UK sources about something other than ambulance services.

          I added ambulance to the search, narrowed it to NZ. Then I found most of the articles are a few years old. Narrowing it further to the last year, brought up articles about failings of other services or people, where the St J ambulance services were also mentioned.

          Doesn’t seem to me evidence of systemic failings of the St John’s service in recent years – certainly not the past year.

    • One Anonymous Bloke 2.3

      Yep.

      Charity is just another way the National Party destroys the commons. Whenever you hear that someone “gives generously to charity” the first question to ask is what crimes they’ve committed. cf” John Gotti.

    • Macro 2.4

      Yep ambulance, rescue helicopter, and fire services all need to be properly funded directly from central government and not reliant on charity and insurance premiums as in the case of fire brigades.

      • framu 2.4.1

        i would add surf life saving to that list

        • Macro 2.4.1.1

          yes agree too.

          All emergency services.

          Salaries directly funded from central government. Like teachers, police, armed forces, etc all those working in essential and emergency services should come under the umbrella of public service, and be funded properly as such.

          While we are at it we should also add to the list those working in such areas as Child Abuse prevention, Woman’s Refuge, et al. Care givers of all types (disabled, aged, child, etc), All such workers provide fundamental services in a fully functioning and equitable society. If a government is serious about the care of all of its citizens and not just the chosen few, then it would ensure that all needs are catered for, and that essentially boils down to adequate funding.

  3. Rosemary McDonald 3

    Y’all might be interested in how ambulance services are funded…

    http://www.health.govt.nz/new-zealand-health-system/key-health-sector-organisations-and-people/naso-national-ambulance-sector-office/emergency-ambulance-services-eas/joint-ministry-health-and-acc-funding-model-emergency-ambulance-services

    “ACC’s portion of these fixed quarterly payments is expected to cover 40% of the total costs of the services. The Ministry of Health’s portion makes a sizeable contribution towards, but does not fully cover the other 60% of service costs. The two providers of emergency road ambulances – St John and Wellington Free – raise the rest of the funding needed (around 18%) to cover their total costs through part charges to service users (for non-injury related conditions), donations from the community, and sponsorships. ”

    Includes a handy wee chart of total government expenditure up to 2013/14.

    Also of interest might be… http://www.wfa.org.nz/ the Welington Free Ambulance Service.

    • Rosemary McDonald 3.1

      It’ll be well worthwhile to also take a gander at this page from the Miserly’s website…http://www.health.govt.nz/new-zealand-health-system/key-health-sector-organisations-and-people/naso-national-ambulance-sector-office/emergency-ambulance-services-eas/review-funding-arrangements-emergency-road-ambulance-services

      ….and perhaps download and read the Terms of Reference for the Review.

      “Objectives
      The objective of the funding review is to advise the Director General of the Ministry and Chief Executive of ACC on government funding arrangements of emergency road ambulance services that:
      a) deliver a high quality emergency ambulance system, at good value for money
      b) encourage effectiveness, efficiency, and innovation
      c) incentivise better health outcomes and broader health system performance
      d) provide greater fiscal certainty and reduced fiscal risk for government and service providers
      e) provide for necessary investment in ambulance communications infrastructure
      f) are affordable short-term and sustainable longer-term.”

      Methinks, perhaps there is a wee pissing contest going on twixt the Miserly and St John’s….the warm bodies doing the actual work are caught in the middle.

      (Similar thing happened in the disability providers sector a few years back…profits to the providers could not be maintained under the then funding model…and the pesky care workers were taking legal action to get fairer pay…if I remember rightly the Provider’s representative organisation basically told the MOH where it could stick it’s new contracts.)

      And the end of the day..it is us..Kiwis…citizen user’s of these largely taxpayer funded health services that pay the price.

  4. Keith 4

    Bill English’s model of doing less with less is a failure!

    Maybe he should think the likes of Ambulances. police, health, children, state housing etc, etc deserve the funding boosts his spy agencies received.

  5. Keith 5

    Where is the levy on the Alcohol industry?

    Alcohol related incidents, (not accidents) make up a fair bit of business for Ambulance services, police and hospitals. It is about time one of National’s favourite donors started paying up their fair share to fund a service that is a direct result of the poison they peddle!

    • You really want to encourage a National government to embark on an accountability model of funding for ambulance services? I can guarantee you wouldn’t like the result.

    • Red 5.2

      A very good point Keith

    • Craig H 5.3

      There is already an excise tax on alcohol in recognition of the harm it causes. It might not be enough, but the mechanism is already there.

      • Whispering Kate 5.3.1

        Yes but does it go completely into emergency services and alcohol rehab treatment etc, I think not, it goes into the consolidated fund where they waste it on junkets overseas and business class flying throughout the year. It should be allocated and ring fenced completely to emergency services and front line workers pay packets.

  6. mosa 6

    Just another example of National and Labour governments and where they stand on a fully funded ambulance service.
    Concerning this action by St John and the impact on widely respected and trusted paramedics and the serious duty they discharge it has the potential to be a highly emotive issue where the public is concerned.

    No surprises at the lack of interest by the corporate media and ZB with their right wing stance which will only be paying lip service to the paramedics plight which in itself is an insult.

    Also the underlying ” changes” to the employment relations act is under National governments is always intended to weaken workers rights and is another opportunity for Labour to come out and show it wants strong protections for hard working kiwis that make a real difference to peoples lives and a change in government will make that a reality.

    Where are you on this issue Andrew Little and Labour ?

  7. red-blooded 7

    This law was always designed to allow employers to put up a brick wall and refuse to negotiate. It’s an appalling piece of legislation, and it fits into a pattern: giving employers the right to refuse union officials access to the workplace, the 90 Days Act, clawbacks on rest and meal breaks (the employer doesn’t need to provide these if it’s “unreasonable”), removing the 30 days rule that used to allow new employees to begin with under conditions equivalent to the provisions of the collective agreement, allowing employers to opt out of multi-employee agreements before bargaining has even begun… It’s been a slow and steady drip, drip, drip – disempowering workers and discouraging collective bargaining and unions.

  8. Labour strenuously opposed the changes at the time…

    Which is why I find it annoying when people peddle bullshit about there being hardly any difference between Labour and National. There is a difference, and a lot of ordinary people get to experience the results of that difference in very direct ways.

    • mickysavage 8.1

      Thanks

      I added it in because no doubt someone would say “what did Labour do about it?”

      The dissenting opinion is bang on the money and disturbingly accurate.

      • The Chairman 8.1.1

        “Labour strenuously opposed the changes at the time”

        And from that can we take it Labour have committed to overturn it if in power?

    • The Chairman 8.2

      @Psycho Milt

      Strenuously opposing is nothing more than paying lip service if it’s not followed up by a commitment to overturn.

      Labour often strenuously oppose, however they seldom commit to overturn.

    • mosa 8.3

      Hey P M

      I take it your comment was aimed at my blog.

      I try to never peddle bullshit and i often write in support of the Labour party and give credit where its due.

      My main point apart from the changes to the labour relations act which these bastards have introduced is that i want to see the party come out in support of the paramedics clearly and emphatically and remind the public of the way the legislation has been enforced here.

      I think that would be timely with a service like this one that the public values and respects.

      I have no question Labour was opposed to the changes and i want to see them make this a campaign issue and a clear plan to change it.

  9. Gabby 9

    Why aren’t they just wearing the tshirt as well as the vest?

  10. Ross 10

    clawbacks on rest and meal breaks (the employer doesn’t need to provide these if it’s “unreasonable”)

    To be honest, if I was in a plane that was about to land, I’d be a little nervous if the pilot said that he had worked 4 hours and was due a rest or meal break. It’s all about common sense.

    If you’ve read the Employment Relations Act, you’ll know that if employers don’t provide breaks, then they must provide compensation. It needn’t be money, it could be time off.

    s69ZEA
    Compensatory measures
    (1) An employer is exempt from the requirement to provide rest breaks and meal breaks in accordance with section 69ZD(1)—
    (a) to the extent that the employer and the employee agree that the employee is to be provided with compensatory measures; or
    (b) if paragraph (a) does not apply, only to the extent that, having regard to the nature of the work performed by the employee, the employer cannot reasonably provide the employee with rest breaks and meal breaks.
    (2) To the extent that an employer is not required to provide rest breaks and meal breaks under subsection (1), an employee is entitled to, and the employee’s employer must provide the employee with, compensatory measures.

    • One Anonymous Bloke 10.1

      To be honest, your defence of this shit marks you as a low life.

      • Ross 10.1.1

        My defence? I was simply pointing out that if employees don’t receive rest breaks, they’re entitled to compensation.

        • One Anonymous Bloke 10.1.1.1

          I withdraw my accusation that you are a low-life.

          It’s entirely possible that you are simply ignorant or stupid.

          • Ross 10.1.1.1.1

            Thanks for your positive contribution. At least you now have the benefit of knowing what the law is. One of us is less ignorant than we were.

    • millsy 10.2

      I do not think it is unreasonable for a pilot to have a break after he lands a plane.

    • Siobhan 10.3

      So you’re happy to have a hungry tired ambo, who’s been dealing with car crashes, drunks, OD’s and domestic violence all night long, looking after you at 4 am when you’ve just had a heart attack? Just as long as they’re getting an extra day off next week, should be ok then…right??

    • Guerilla Surgeon 10.4

      “(a) to the extent that the employer and the employee agree that the employee is to be provided with compensatory measures.”

      And of course the employee’s opinion will be taken into account – yeah right.

      Anyway, what I originally intended to say was that there is not a great deal saintly about St John’s ambulance anymore.

    • red-blooded 10.5

      Reply to Ross:
      1) Having flexibility about the timing of breaks isn’t the same as having no breaks.
      2) Ever heard of co-pilots? What about autopilots? (Not for landing the plane, but for giving the pilot a break before this stage of things.)

      This clause isn’t about public safety, it’s about saying that it’s OK for someone working alone in a shop (or a similar situation) to be stuck there all day with no break.

      Anyway, it’s the pattern of changes I’m commenting on. Can you find some examples of changes to employment law under National that have favoured workers and strengthened collective bargaining?

      • Ross 10.5.1

        You missed my point red blooded. I never said flexibility was the same as having no breaks. I said employees must – not should – be compensated if they cannot have breaks. But when breaks are taken is a matter of common sense.

  11. BM 11

    Having spent quite a bit of time doing work around all the different St Johns bases, this requiring officers to work 9-hour shifts without a break isn’t particularly factual.

    Every St-Johns base I’ve visited has a lounge, with a TV, DVD, SKY etc as well as full kitchen facilities.

    During a shift, a lot of time is spent watching TV etc waiting for the bell to go off, sure you don’t get a 15-minute smoko every couple of hours but you do get quite a bit of downtime, surely that downtime should be considered a break?

    • mickysavage 11.1

      How long since you worked in the industry BM?

    • Sabine 11.2

      waiting for the bell to go off is not a break.

      signed partner of a voluntary first responder who has spend a many great days and nights on her own cause the bell went off.

      and if the bell goes of three or four times a night and you run for your truck and honk your horn and go about business you get tired, you get hungry, you get dirty and you get sad many many times if you come to late.

      Remind yourself every now and then that people are not 0 and 1. You don’t just plug in and out and lookit, it works again.

      • BM 11.2.1

        waiting for the bell to go off is not a break.

        That’s the nature of the job, same as the police, same as the fire service.

        If you struggle with that then maybe being an ambo isn’t for you.

        • One Anonymous Bloke 11.2.1.1

          Alternatively, your boss could well be an incompetent self-serving right winger who gives generously to charity.

        • mickysavage 11.2.1.2

          If the job is the same as the police then it should be properly funded and supported. POlice officers have much better conditions of employment compared to Ambulance drivers.

  12. RedBaronCV 12

    There was a comment under one of the MSM stories to the effect that the St Johns paid a largish? fee overseas every year? Interesting but I couldn’t find a $ amount in on the website.
    But they do have that large chunk of assets and practically no debt. The bulk of their revenue comes from the taxpayer or by way of local donations so they are funded by local people . Should we not be looking at the Charities Act so that locally sourced funds have to remain here (unless the charity clearly states that it is set up to provide overseas assistance (like the Red Cross).
    I also wonder why we put so much in local funds into it to fund assets that are essentially put beyond local reach. Much like charter schools really.

    Nor do we seem to be able to see the salary bands for the employees so we have no real idea how much the various top level staff & boards are taking.

    • mickysavage 12.1

      There is $38 million in sundry expenses. It could be there. Shame the accounts were not broken down further.

  13. DH 13

    Looks to me like a classic case of divide and rule. The workers and the charity are fighting each other while the mandarins smirk and sneer from above.

    They should be working together to extort more money out of the Govt which looks to be ultimately responsible for their working conditions.

  14. greywarshark 14

    The trend under neo liberalism is to grind all working people down needing to work longer hours to make a living, being required to work longer, inconvenient, unplanned hours with dodgy rosters and abrupt changes that affect the lifeblood of their workers.
    Then the pay is lower than it used to be in real terms, low inflation which is supposed to assist lenders, cannot be matched by employers they say, probably because of increased competition in private enterprise and underfunding in the public lack-of-service. The uncounted inflation that is involved with some aspects of housing floats off in the airy fairy stats that gummint likes to provide.

    So ambulance officers, care workers are underpaid and overworked, maybe because the entities can’t get enough staff, which under the law of supply and demand, would then be rectified with incentives including higher pay. Did I saw ‘law’? When it comes to neo lib economics it works out that the entities supply what they want and then demand the gummint change the law to suit.

    Volunteer fire people are increasingly called out to do police work. The management of the fire service treat them on a top-down management basis. The latest is that volunteer lifesavers are being called to do other work as well.

    The attitude of the elites and the culture of the country’s management is screw everybody. Neolib economics says there is no such thing as kindly, helpful, community work that requires sacrificing time and personal enjoyment. No that economic theory says that because you get a good feeling from doing such things you receive recompense, a virtual payment. You don’t do it to share the burden and lighten the problems, even though you aren’t being paid you are receiving a reward of pleasure and satisfaction, as if you were pursuing a personal hobby.

    So under that belief, St Johns and others have nothing to complain about. It’s easy when managers and the me generation accept the crooked logic of neo libs.

    Some interesting links I found. Which are somewhat connected with the above.

    An interesting economist who should be known about.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amartya_Sen

    Good coverage of economic trends.
    https://www.mainstreamweekly.net/article757.html

    Guide to the trends we are noticing in NZ – a USA model, not unexpected.!
    http://www.govtech.com/health/5-Trends-Driving-the-Future-of-Human-Services.html

    Here is a concise online book on economics which asks readers to pay something,
    which is as fair as paying a proper wage, or not abusing people’s public service actions. http://www.garlikov.com/EPFE.html

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