The union representing Ottawa Paramedics has won an arbitration award in a dispute with the City. It's a decision that could affect the number of available ambulances in Ottawa at any given time.

Following a complaint from Prescott-Russell Paramedics in August 2016, that said rural ambulances were being unnecessarily dispatched the city core, the Ministry of Health and Long-term Care investigated and ordered, in February 2017, that a change be made in Ottawa Paramedic policy.

Paramedics originally had 30 minutes at the end of their shift to return to headquarters and finish paperwork and other duties, but that kept an ambulance out of service for that time.

The City rescinded the policy to address the issue of rural dispatches to the core in March 2017, but CUPE Local 503 argued the change violated the collective agreement. The union said by making it much harder for Paramedics to finish their end-of-shift duties within standard working hours--because on-duty paramedics could be called out to an emergency up until the very last minute of their standard shift--the policy shift constituted a change in standard working hours and made overtime work all but mandatory. The union also argued that changing the policy while the current agreement remained in effect removed their ability to discuss the issue during collective bargaining.

The City argued that an ambulance was made available near Paramedic Headquarters to provide coverage for paramedics coming off duty, and also said it was exploring options that would allow paramedics to remain at headquarters for the last 15 minutes of their shift to complete their duties. The City also argued that since the policy change was ordered by the Ministry, it fell outside the collective agreement.

On Friday, An arbitrator agreed with the union. The City now has 60 days to reinstate the original 30-minute end-of-shift policy and make any other relevant changes "in order to allow for paramedics to be able to complete their duties within the standard hours of work."

In a memo, Acting Chief of the Ottawa Paramedic Service, Peter Kelly, said staff would require time to assess the operational impacts of the order. He said staff will use the next 60 days to "review the findings of the arbitrator and make any adjustments necessary to ensure the continued provision of seamless emergency medical care."