LOCAL paramedics are threatening industrial action for the first time in 30 years, saying a new roster system which could force them to work up to 160 hours per week will put lives in danger.
The new system, which will be rolled out by the Ambulance Service of NSW (ASNSW) across the state from Saturday, will see paramedics at regional stations moved to a seven days on, two days off roster with eight hour shifts and a 16-hour on-call component.
This will eradicate the four days on, four days off roster which is currently in place.
ASNSW claims the regional roster reform will reduce fatigue, improve response time for patients and create less after-hours disturbances for paramedics. But those in the job say that is simply not true.
Local paramedics, who cannot be named for fear of repercussions, said they were being bullied to comply with the new system, which could see them having to begin a new shift on less than four hours sleep.
They said the seven-day roster was in place about 10 years ago but was scrapped due to fatigue issues, with officers sometimes falling asleep behind the wheel.
"Griffith paramedics have grave concerns for the safety of patients, members of the public and themselves," a Griffith paramedic said.
"Officers will be on call for 16 hours a day at $1.18 per hour which means you must have phone on you at all times, can't play sport, take children to the park, go to movies or go out of town whilst on call.
"It's our families and our lives they are messing with - on call disrupts family life because officers sleep in separate beds so they don't disturb their partner when the phone rings during the night."
Health Services Union (HSU) acting manager of industrial services Tom Stevanja said the new rosters were "dangerous".
"Do we have to wait until someone is killed in a car accident because they are that fatigued?" Mr Stevanja said.
"Does someone in the community have to die?"
He said the reforms were introduced in response to a WorkCover investigation into fatigue management, but had been created as a "knee jerk reaction" and did not address or counteract fatigue.
"These guys don't shy away from hard work but this gives them no period to rest and relax," he said.
"In a standard office job we work 152 hours a month but these guys are expected to be available 160 hours per week."
In a letter to the Emergency Medical Service Protection Association, a WorkCover spokesperson said "at no time has the WorkCover Authority of NSW endorsed or will endorse the changes to workplace rosters that have been presented to the paramedics by the ASNSW" and feedback from paramedics had been "mostly negative".
Local paramedics have hit out at NSW health minster Jillian Skinner for supporting changes that she "does not understand".
But in a written response to The Area News, Mrs Skinner accused the HSU of "misleading and scaring communities".
"What these reforms will deliver are changes to ambulance rosters, which are a long-overdue response to paramedic fatigue and staffing gaps in the afternoon and early evening," Mrs Skinner said.
"The changes will mean fewer call-outs, an extra shift in the afternoons for busier stations and shorter day shifts."