Paramedics have questioned the high legal costs and ‘dirty tactics’ used by NSW Ambulance Service management in its 18-month attempt to impose ‘draconian’ rosters on staff, including concerns false information was given to the Industrial Relations Commission (IRC) to make paramedics appear greedy.
A complaint has been lodged with the NSW Ambulance Service’s Professional Standards Conduct Unit concerning testimony given to the IRC by a northern sector manager that two north coast MPs told him paramedics were simply ‘agitating over the loss of overtime’.
Paramedics maintain that their 18-month industrial campaign to reject the rosters was never about money but always based on officers’ fatigue and patients’ safety, a view upheld by the commission when it ordered the rosters be scrapped last month.
In a court transcript obtained by Echonetdaily, the manager was questioned by the Health Services Union (HSU) barrister about file notes from briefings to Clarence MP Chris Gulaptis and Lismore MP Thomas George, where the manager states that the MPs ‘understood’ paramedics’ ‘agitation’ to the roster changes was linked to the loss of overtime, a claim Mr Gulaptis unequivocally denies.
Under cross-examination, the manager goes on to suggest that the notion came from the MPs themselves, a claim Mr Gulaptis equally denies (Mr George could not be reached for comment).
‘I would refute that, because I’m not privy to that information, and as far as I’m concerned it never had anything to do with the money,’ Mr Gulaptis said.
‘I’m not sure why he would mention me or Thomas (George) because firstly, I’m a new MP and I don’t know the ins-and-outs of paramedics, or what their jobs entail in terms of overtime.
‘I didn’t meet with (paramedics) on the basis that I thought they were being overpaid; I met them on the basis I thought they were getting a raw deal.
‘I took their concerns very seriously and it was stressed at every meeting I had with paramedics that it was not about the money, it was about them needing time off because eventually they were going to burn out.
‘That was the message I conveyed to the minister, Jillian Skinner, and to her staff on a number of occasions. I never raised with anyone the idea they were agitating for an increase in dollars, or that they were agitating on the basis they were going to lose income.
‘As I said, I took up their cause because I thought it was worthy and I’m really pleased there’s been a number of changes; and I said that to the minister when I found out a couple of weeks ago, I thought it was a terrific result.’
At the time of going to press, the NSW Ambulance Service had yet to respond to the paramedics’ concerns.
HSU NSW secretary Gerard Hayes said paramedics were deeply disappointed and angered at the accusation their fight was about money.
‘We are looking into that to see where that came from and whom it came from,’ he said.
‘Paramedics believe they have been vilified in the matter, I’ve worked those rosters and I can tell you now there’s money in them but you’re working 24 hours a day, you don’t want the money, you want to have a life.’
Mr Hayes also questioned the legal cost of the campaign by ambulance management to implement the rosters, believed to be about $300,000.
‘It’s a lot of money to get the resolution that, at the end of the day, was probably something that should’ve been negotiated 18 months ago,’ he said.
‘In the end everyone’s got a bit of what they wanted in this. We didn’t get everything we wanted and they certainly didn’t get the ridiculous rosters they wanted, but we’ve got a commonsense resolution.
‘We seek to negotiate good outcomes for our members by working with organisations, having to go through the courts like this indicates a failure in those negotiations.’