Cairns ambos protest against meal cutbacks
PARAMEDICS frustrated at their treatment by the Newman Government locked themselves in a cage on the Cairns Esplanade yesterday as part of a protest at proposed cuts to meal break provisions.
About 30 paramedics and union officials were present for the protest, with speakers venting their anger towards three actors playing the roles of Premier Campbell Newman, Deputy Premier Jeff Seeney and Treasurer Tim Nicholls.
A bowl of peanuts was also offered up to those caged to symbolise the proposed changes to meal break provisions.
Paramedics are paid a penalty rate if they are unable to take a meal break during their shift.
However, the State Government intends to take away that penalty rate, which United Voice Far Northern region state councillor Craig Crawford said would leave no incentive to ensure paramedics have adequate time to take a break during their shift.
"What we are complaining about is not the money," Mr Crawford said.
"At busy stations, in particular Cairns, Smithfield and Edmonton, the crews will work almost every day and every night of the year 12 hours without a break.
"Not even a sweatshop in Asia works for 12 hours without a break."
Paramedics are obligated to attend every call they receive from the QAS communications centre, no matter how minor the situation may be.
A spokesman for Minister Assisting the Premier Glen Elmes said the scrapping of meal break provisionswas part of finding cost "efficiencies" in the state budget.
"We're offering the ambulance officers a pay rise, but in return for that pay rise, we need to be able to find some efficiencies so that the overall cost doesn't go up by more than the state can afford," he said.
Both parties arein conciliation over the EBA, with the State Government still having the option of taking the matter to a court of arbitration.
However, Mr Crawford remains hopeful of reaching a compromise with the Government.
Fellow state councillor and Kuranda advanced care paramedic Ross Price added that he was concerned about understaffing in the Cairns, with his own station staff being deployed to the city around 25 per cent of the time.
"Kuranda's often left unattended for several hours at a time until I can get back there or they can get a crew from Mareeba across," Mr Price said.
"Smaller communities like Kuranda and Babinda are being deprived of their ambulance resources to fill the hole in Cairns."
In response to a series of questions posed by The Cairns Post, a Department of Community Safety spokesman said that current staffing levels met demand for the Cairns area, despite committing to funding another 60 paramedic positions across Queensland this financial year.
"Cairns station has some of the best response times in the state with 50 per cent of Code 1 (Urgent) incidents attended within 7.1 minutes and 90 per cent of Code 1 incidents attended within 11.8 minutes against the state performance of 8.3 minutes and 16.9 minutes respectively as at 3 December 2012," the spokesman said.
"The QAS operates in a highly mobile environment and utilises a system of dynamic deployment to ensure the closest most appropriate unit is dispatched to an incident".
According to QAS figures, as at October 31, Cairns Ambulance Station currently had 44 'Full Time Equivalent' paramedics.
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Feeding time: Paramedics complain about losing their meal break. Picture: BRENDAN FRANCIS