changes to penalty rates a deadly mistake, letter from a paramedic with the Queensland Ambulance Service

Dear Campbell Newman, I am a paramedic with the Queensland Ambulance Service. I’m writing to you in regard to the changes that you are introducing to my conditions of service.

Before I delve into the specifics, however, I’d like to give you some background information about myself: I graduated from high school in the top of my class, a fair few years ago, gaining an OP 2. I then studied and gained a Biomedical Degree at the University of Queensland, before volunteering and later accepting a position as a paramedic with QAS. It wasn’t part of my original ‘life plan’ but I found a niche in the world where I felt like I was making a difference. Since working for the QAS, I’ve completed a diploma, a degree and very soon a masters degree; furthering my education because this is an ever changing and important field and I like to stay at the top of my game. I became engaged to a fellow paramedic earlier in the year and we bought a moderate house in an moderate suburb together.

We don’t live extravagantly. In fact, because of rosters and the fatigue of our work, we are just home bodies who take our dogs to the beach for fun. He’s ex military, having spent five years working as a paratrooper and a medic before joining QAS.

I’m not sure if you’re aware but many in the service are ex military – hard working men and women with a strong sense of community who joined the ambulance service with life experience and the ability to operate well under pressure. Regardless of our backgrounds though, we are all here because we thought we could offer value to the community. We are people who were born with, or adapted ourselves into, an ability to handle situations that others find stressful.

We are also professionals, who have studied and trained hard, learning the intricacies of medicine – albeit, in a more specific area than some. We are passionate about prehospital and emergency medicine. The industrial commission handed down a decision this month that is going to have an almost inconceivably negative impact on the ongoing quality of life of my family. Their decision, with their hands tied by you, will mean, at first calculation, a drop in household income of at least $40,000. Now, we were not earning more than average income in the first place; in fact, this decrease will be more than a third of our household wage.

Think back to your early thirties, could you have supported your family, and kept your house, if your wage dropped by more than a third? I’d also like you to be mindful of the fact that, unlike most other jobs, a decent pay point increase is never on the horizon, no matter how many years of service we provide. As I write this to you, I’m in between night shifts having worked more than thirty six hours already this week without having one single thirty minute break. Some people argue that penalty rates are outdated, but we need some compensation for the hours we work non-stop. It is only just and fair that a worker is compensated for the impacts of their job.

With morals intact, you had two choices: to put on more ambulance crews to decrease our workload; or pay us for our continuous demand. You chose neither. You chose to strip us bare as you knew that the importance of what we do, combined with our work ethic, meant we would be all but helpless to fight. I’m unable to sleep because of an overwhelming feeling of not being heard or appreciated by the very person I helped elect to government. This big difference that you think you’re making to the community by your budget cuts is not being felt anywhere I’ve been. If your aim was to knock the very heart out of a thousand plus front line workers who give their all everyday – you’ve achieved it.

Morale has never been lower. We watch your spin ads for Queensland Health and listen to Springborg’s comments regarding how he supports front line workers with nothing short of dark humour, contempt and restrained anger. I could name less than a handful of paramedics who haven’t decided to look elsewhere for work. Do you know what this means? It means that you are preparing to leave the health of Queenslanders in the hands of brand new uni graduates with little to no practical experience on road. Those of the public, who have had the unfortunate opportunity to witness our work at times of real need, will know what a deadly mistake you are making. Thirty minutes is the very minimum amount of time from a 000 request before a patient will get to a hospital in Brisbane (no matter how fast we drive)…

I can tell you from experience that is the difference between a life time and a grave for a drowned child, or a husband suffering from a heart attack, or a pregnant mother with pre-eclampsia about to seize. If you think we don’t deserve a decent penalty for no meal breaks in an entire week of work, at least consider the base rate you pay us. All we are asking for is a decent wage. A wage that recognises us as the professionals that we are. A wage that says that in someway what we do is actually valued. We are not asking you to bankrupt the State of Queensland. (And I say this with irony, for if you feel Queensland can afford a 22% pay rise for yourself, you can at least continue paying us the same for what we do…) In a world where CEOs make millions, politicians have $167 meal allowances and a ticket to the footy costs 50 bucks, we at least deserve a salary that makes ends meet.

We don’t deserve to work harder, longer, with more training and experience, and get paid over 25% less. It’s actually beyond belief, ridiculous. We deserve a salary so that when we retire after fifty plus years of night shifts, heavy lifting, stress, haunted dreams and missed Christmases, birthdays and simple everyday family life, we have a chance of living, maybe, just comfortably. If you want to keep the type of people in the job who you would actually want to treat yourself, or your family, in a time of need, I would reconsider your position. What we do, as hackneyed as it may sound, very often means the difference between life and death. The mere possibility of a mass exodus of experienced paramedics from the stations you make work non-stop should have you very concerned. We want to help Queensland. How about you help us?

Yours Sincerely, A Queensland Paramedic

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