Women face structural barriers at Ambulance Victoria, Human Rights Commission report finds

Women and people of diverse backgrounds who work at Ambulance Victoria face behavioral barriers that prevent them from rising through the ranks, according to a report by the state’s human rights watchdog.

The report said the attitude was due in part to the “continuing influence of the stereotype of paramedics as white, male, physically and mentally, confident, stoic and the breadwinner of the family”.

It is the second installment of a study by the Victorian Commission on Equal Opportunities and Human Rights into the culture of the organization.

Released late last year, the first volume found an entrenched culture of harassment at Ambulance Victoria, with more than half of paramedics reporting bullying experiences and nearly a fifth reporting sexual harassment.

The second report found that men were overrepresented in leadership and senior positions in the organization.

Across the workforce, the representation of women was slightly higher than that of men.

The commission found that Ambulance Victoria had a gender pay gap of 10.8 percent, which was in line with the pay gap in the Victorian public sector.

Ro Allen, the Victorian Commissioner for Equal Opportunities and Human Rights, said Ambulance Victoria should develop a “robust complaints system” for accountability in the future.

“No one is above this and everyone should be held accountable,” they said.

They said the report focused on issues related to equality, respect and inclusion, and contained 19 recommendations – all accepted by Ambulance Victoria.

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In the first report, a dozen Ambulance Victoria employees reported being victims of rape or attempted assault.

Ambulance Victoria said it had implemented all 24 recommendations in the commission’s report.

This week, the organization’s executive director for people and culture, Rebecca Hodges, tendered her resignation after more than six years in the position.

On Wednesday, Ambulance Acting CEO Victoria Libby Murphy denied that the timing of Ms Hodges’ resignation was related to the publication of the commission’s report.

Ms. Murphy said a major cultural change in the organization was a long time coming.

“But over the next six months, we’re realizing that our focus needs to be on workplace behavior and what we can do to hold people accountable,” she said.

The committee will review Ambulance Victoria’s response to its recommendations by the end of 2023.

Union calls Victoria ambulance ‘toxic’

Brett Adie, secretary of Ambulance Employees Australia Victoria, said a “major commotion” was needed at Ambulance Victoria.

“Ambulance Victoria not only failed to protect staff, but also failed to listen to them when they reported damage,” he said.

“As we said when the first report was released, a fundamental culture shift requires an equally significant shift in senior leadership, and the workforce that has been inactive for years deserves it.”

Since the publication of the first part of the commission, the Victorian Ambulance Union has said it is aware of recent allegations of bullying and sex crimes within the organization.

Victorian Ambulance Union secretary Danny Hill said the culture at Ambulance Victoria was “incredibly toxic”.

“We have people who are really hurt, unwell, sad and have left their jobs as a result of what they’ve been through,” he said.

Code red attributed to staff shortage

Meanwhile, staff shortages continue to put pressure on the state’s ambulance service, with about 500 paramedics currently being fired after being infected or exposed to COVID.

Statewide, more than 2,000 health workers are unavailable to work.

Ambulance Victoria had to ring code red for two hours on Tuesday evening after a heavy workload and hospital disaster left only 1 percent of the organization’s ambulance fleet available to respond to calls, according to the Victorian Ambulance Union.

Acting Prime Minister James Merlino said staff shortages were the cause.

“More than 2,000 people were laid off in our health services yesterday, so the pandemic remains a challenge in Victoria and across the country.”

Shadow Health Minister Georgie Crozier blamed the crisis on the state government, saying it had underfunded and understaffed the sector for years.

“You can’t blame COVID for this crisis, this is years in the making,” she said.

Health care Albury Wodonga ‘in crisis’

Albury Wodonga Health said it received more than 200 presentations a day, forcing it to declare a code yellow.

Albury’s doctor Rebecca McGowan said the local health network was “in crisis”.

She said the system was catching up with patients who had been delayed in seeking medical care during the height of the pandemic.

“They’re coming to the hospital and to GPs now — they’re sicker and their medical needs require much more intensive care,” she said.

North East Health in Wangaratta also declared code yellow earlier this week.

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