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Sincere Or A Stunt? St John Workers Revisit Reti’s Pre-election Ambulance Ridealongs

A FIRST Union member who works for St John says ambulance officers are astounded by St John’s revelations during pay negotiations that frontline services could be cut or wages frozen due to a lack of funding, and they say the service is already in a state of disarray "never seen before" that requires urgent action from Government.

"Shane Reti was desperate to ride along with ambulance crews before the election and we honestly believed that this was a guy who wanted to understand what we were dealing with every day because he intended to fix it if he became Minister of Health," said the St John ambulance officer, who has worked for the organisation for multiple decades but cannot be identified due to restrictive media clauses in the staff Collective Agreement.

"It seemed like he was genuinely listening to our concerns, and plenty of us were impressed by his sincerity, but he’s gone to ground now that the question of funding has arrived during bargaining."

"We’re wondering now if it was just a political stunt all along."

"It was strongly implied before the election that Reti intended to provide more funding for St John and reduce the dependence on donations to fund essential services like ambulances, emergency communications and fair wage rises for staff."

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"We’re in a state of disarray that I’ve never seen before - I’ve never heard them threaten to take services off the road, but honestly, it is already happening, and we’re already at risk of collapse."

"Patients are waiting hours for emergency responses and ambulance officers are completely devastated to be turning up and trying to offer an explanation to someone who has literally been lying on the ground and writhing in pain for several hours, waiting for an ambulance."

"A pay rise is one thing but more important is that we can entice young people who are enthusiastic and qualified to stay in New Zealand in the ambulance service rather than heading straight to Australia for better pay - it’s a huge problem."

Faye McCann, FIRST Union national organiser for ambulance services, said collective bargaining with St John was due to resume in the next week but workers would be walking in with no new information about how St John and the Government intended to fund wage rises for ambulance officers. She said this was surprising given the National-NZ First coalition agreement, which claimed that the Government was aiming to "renegotiate the Crown funding agreement with St John with a view to meet a greater portion of their budget."

"We urgently need to hear from the Ministers responsible that a solution is in the works, because the service can’t tolerate further cuts and staff will not accept a wage freeze in one of the toughest public-facing roles imaginable while the cost of living continues to rise," said Ms McCann.

"No more doing more with less; no more reliance on handouts and goodwill from New Zealanders - the Government needs to get serious about fixing a critical health service that is rapidly approaching breaking point."

The St John worker, described above, said ambulance officers and emergency communications staff felt like they were often failing in their main priority of patient care, which was making the job even more difficult and stressful and driving resignations and staff shortages.

"I’ve heard that an average person will deal with five big, traumatic incidents like the death of close family, or major injury, during their lifetimes. Emergency service workers will encounter around 150 such incidents within the first five years of their career," they said.

"This is not a sustainable system, and New Zealanders should be worried for themselves and their loved ones if not for us."

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