Okanagan paramedic says $2 per hour doesn't cut it

Paramedics at $2 per hour

Juliet Kaczmarek drives nearly an hour and a half to work as an on-call paramedic in a rural detachment, and starting next month, she could get paid just $24 for a 12-hour shift. 

Kaczmarek lives in Kelowna with her partner, and has been a paramedic for over a year.

She had no opportunities for full time work in the city when she was fresh out of training since positions are based on seniority, but she couldn't leave her family for full time work as her partner couldn't move.

So she signed up as a casual paramedic assigned to a rural location: Oliver, around 100 kilometres of driving away.

"At the Oliver station, there is only one full-time position and the rest of the schedule is filled by casual employees. Many paramedics, including myself, are required to drive long distances to their assigned station.  Thus, being on-call means being at the station," Kaczmarek explained.

Until now, she has been guaranteed four hours of pay per on-call shift even if no calls came in, at her regular rate of $27.38 per hour. When calls do come in, she is paid that same regular rate. 

But that four-hour guaranteed pay was set to end for 39 communities including Oliver on April 3, leaving Kaczmarek faced with the possibility of driving 1.25 hours, putting in a 12 hour shift with no calls, and making only $24. 

"To be compensated with $2 per hour awaiting a call is an injustice in my opinion, especially during a crisis like [COVID-19]," she said.

"I'm expected to put myself at risk if a call does come in. I'm fully trained and prepared to respond, but the compensation we get is inequitable for sure."

BC Emergency Health Services said Friday afternoon that they will be delaying the phase-out of the "Kilo Guarantee," meaning the four hours paid at regular rates, until May 1. 

"The rapid spread of the COVID-19 pandemic has redirected resources and the Union and BC Emergency Health Services have had to temporarily shift focus away from the work being done to roll out the new Scheduled On-Call model," reads a BCEHS statement, referring to a deployment model they say will "see hundreds of regular paramedic positions introduced in rural and remote communities across British Columbia."

For Kaczmarek, delaying the loss of that four-hour guaranteed income for another month isn't good enough.

"It took a pandemic for them to delay it one month, but the hazards we face in our job haven't changed. So for them to be pushing this back a month, we're still going to be facing the same challenges on May 1," Kaczmarek said.

"I would just like to be compensated adequately ... paramedics risk their health and the health of their families the minute we put on our uniforms, go to work, and serve our communities during this crisis. Just as doctors and nurses are providing an essential service to combat the current pandemic, so too are paramedics."

Kaczmarek sent an email outlining her concerns to provincial Minister of Health Adrian Dix on March 30. She says she doesn't officially speak for anyone other than herself, but knows many of her coworkers are in similar boats. 

"I'm just looking for the public's support and anyone's support that reflects my work as a paramedic."

She has yet to receive a reply from the ministry.

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