National | Health

Free ambulance services

Over 1000 St John ambulance staff are stepping up industrial action by providing free services to the public this Christmas, by not issuing invoices to patients.

The non-invoicing of patients comes after an escalation of action after St John failed to address concerns around shift pay for staff, says FIRST Union.

Union organiser Sarah Stone says the strike, starting tomorrow, is likely to put a huge financial strain on St John but not the public.

“Our members wanted to make that very clear; patients are priority,” she says.

It comes after 10 days of negotiations over several months in a response to the company’s decision to refuse to recognise the time, effort and strain caused by shift work to ambulance professionals, says the union.

Stone says the coalition government needs to listen as questions have been raised about the way St John runs its organisation.

“This life-saving service is woefully underfunded and it’s not working. Shift recognition payments are a basic requirement of any 24/7 worker, but especially those highly skilled, brave people who work through the night to be there for us at the most difficult time of our lives.”

The union says the strike will continue until a resolution can be achieved.

Meanwhile, St John Director of People and Capability Sue Steen says St John is in the middle of collective bargaining with four unions and hopes to reach an agreement that suits all parties.

"We respect our people’s right to take industrial action while working in a safe and professional manner," she said in a statement.

She says St John does charge a small part of the cost for some emergency ambulance call outs.

"While there may be a delay in receiving an invoice during the holiday shutdown period and First Union industrial action, we will continue to invoice patients for the part charge.”