St John, registered charity and largest provider of ambulance services in the country, have backtracked on promises for pay increases – even after they revealed plans to slash 100 jobs.
FIRST Union St John ambulance workers will, later this month, walk out on strike in a bid to force the employer to honour its promised pay increases. In the middle of last year unions achieved a collective agreement with St John, ensuring a 6.5% average pay increase and updated penal rates. The agreement was supposed to come into effect on the 1st of July, but as of today no pay increases have taken place.
The organisation is a charity, receiving about 75% of its funding from various national and local government bodies – principally the Ministry of Health, ACC, and District Health Boards around the country. Despite this, along with the community donations and money made from the sale of first aid kits and defibrillators, the charity has always struggled to break even.
All this begs the question: why does our principal ambulance service still rely on charitable contributions to survive? An enormous number of countries have ambulances fully funded by their health service. Speaking to Stuff, FIRST Union organiser Jared Abbot said “A lot of the public think that too. When you look at ambulances being the front line of DHB services, it doesn’t make sense”
The ambulances themselves are still not always free. For non-accident medical emergencies (for instance acute appendicitis), NZ citizens, Cook Island, Niue or Tokelau nationals, British Visitors and those who hold work visas have to pay a $98 call-out fee. If these criteria are not met, however, the fee is a minimum of $800.
All this seems to go against the purpose of a nationally funded healthcare system – looking after the sick and vulnerable. The system we currently have in place, if it continues as it is, will end with tech monopolies taking over the ambulance service entirely as has begun in the United States.
The government urgently needs to nationalise and integrate our country’s ambulance services directly into our healthcare system. This upcoming strike is of tantamount importance to the medics suffering under New Zealand’s strange web of healthcare charities. We must all hope they are successful, and that the government takes some responsibility for this mess that they have neglected.