PARAMEDICS in the south-west are working shifts of up to 14 hours to prop up their income as pay talks between unions and the government stall.
A handful of local paramedics met with union leaders in Warrnambool yesterday to plot their next move against Premier Denis Napthine in a campaign for a 30 per cent pay rise.
Ambulances around Warrnambool will soon be covered in hand written messages of protest calling on Dr Napthine to boost salaries for Victorian paramedics, who they claim are the lowest-paid in Australia.
They will also picket the MP’s Liebig Street electoral office over the coming weeks.
The head of the state’s paramedics union, Steve McGhie, said talks would resume again today to secure a 30 per cent pay rise over four years.
The government has so far offered a five per cent rise, which the Ambulance Employees Association claim will only come if they trade off one week’s leave and entitlements.
Mr Napthine called for restraint during pay negotiations.
“I believe we can reach a satisfactory agreement with the paramedics. But in the process of this EBA negotiation, I would urge the paramedics to show common sense and reason,” Dr Napthine said.
“We don’t want any industrial action that endangers lives; that is totally unacceptable and I think most paramedics would find that unacceptable.
“With respect to public signage, they can hold up signs, they can do that, but putting them on ambulances I think is a step too far.”
Paramedics who spoke to The Standard yesterday said the situation was becoming increasingly desperate.
They also spoke out against centralisation and a lack of local knowledge in remote call centres directing south-west ambulances and a lack of resources.
They said an ambulance recently had to be sent from Port Fairy to Warrnambool in response to a primary school pupil suffering a seizure because the Warrnambool unit was tied up with a patient transfer.
Another ambulance was sent out on the highest code 1 emergency to a man who had cut his toe, they claimed.
Many paramedics are now considering moving to South Australia, where salaries are up to $23,000 per annum more.
Among them is MICA paramedic Gus Mitchell who was yesterday on his fifth day of being on 24-hour call.
The Geelong-based officer said he signed on to fill in the long shifts in Port Fairy to “prop up” his salary with extra rates that come with overtime in country towns.
Recently that meant doing a straight 14-hour shift, primarily spent taking emergency patients to Warrnambool.
“I went out on the first job at 8.30am and I finished at 10pm that night,” Mr Mitchell said.
“We get a break at the hospital when we fill out the paperwork.”
The trauma that paramedics take home each day outweighed the salary, Mr Mitchell said.
“When you see dead kids or partially open skulls ... you suddenly realise you’re not getting paid enough for this.”
Mr McGhie said 10 paramedics had taken their own lives in the past five years.