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British Columbia

RCMP emergency dispatchers’ union pleads for more staff in B.C.’s Interior

The union representing the RCMP’s emergency dispatchers nationwide says British Columbia is facing acute staffing shortages that could exacerbate crisis response.

Most emergency calls in the westernmost province are handled by the non-profit organization E-Comm, which is funded by several Lower Mainland municipalities. emergency call centers there Have complained significant staff shortage and revision in the last year.

However, for some of the most remote communities in the province — including most of the north and interior — the RCMP cares shipping operations.

RCMP call centers in BC are understaffed by an average of 43 percent, according to Kathleen Hippern, the president of CUPE Local 104, which represents RCMP dispatchers.

Hippern says the Prince George and Kelowna shipping centers are among the hardest-hit in Canada, according to the RCMP.

“We are in a crisis. It’s scary,” she told CBC News. “It’s a patchwork of solutions to try and get them help.”

According to Hippers, dispatchers are being flown in daily from another center in Courtenay to fill the shortage in Prince George.

A man walks past a sign that reads 'Royal Canadian Mounted Police'.
Local union leader Kathleen Hippern claims the RCMP is not doing enough to address the shortage of dispatchers. The cost of RCMP contract services in a community or region—including salaries and equipment—are shared between Ottawa and other levels of government. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

“They even take officers who are retired, bring them back and try to get them to take calls,” she said. “They’re not trained dispatchers … it’s a patchwork quilt.”

The cost of RCMP contract services in a community or region—including salaries and equipment—are shared between Ottawa and other levels of government.

In this case, Hippern is calling on the national RCMP leadership and the Treasury Department, which administers civil service salaries, to fill vacancies more quickly.

The Treasury Board referred to the RCMP when asked for an answer. The RCMP says it is working “diligently” to address the issue.

“A number of initiatives have been taken across divisions to increase the number of trained 911 dispatchers in their areas of responsibility,” a spokesman wrote in an email. “For example… in British Columbia, the RCMP has started a new recruitment event called ‘Coffee with a Dispatcher.'”

At the event, highlighted by the RCMP in BC, an emergency dispatcher sits down with interested applicants at a coffee shop and answers questions about the role.

The spokesman said there was a 38.67 percent job vacancy rate for dispatchers nationwide from January to November 2022. However, they said 20 per cent of those would be viewed as “soft” or temporary vacancies.

“These leave categories include sick leave, maternity and paternity leave, education or language training, etc.,” they said. “Typically, soft vacancies are not included in the job posting because the value fluctuates over time.”

“Not able to compete”

Hippern said she has been a dispatcher since 2006 and that the “snowball” of staffing shortages has accelerated over the past decade.

The union leader says dispatchers in remote communities are called upon in crisis situations such as Forest fires – Calls that they feel cannot be handled effectively when the centers are so understaffed.

“I know Prince George has been affected by fires in the past 2017, 2018,” said Hippern. “You did the job [then]but it wasn’t easy.

“Now we would be in trouble.”

Shipping centers are no longer the “employer of choice,” says Hippern, especially for younger people who are put off by evening, weekend, and holiday work.

She also says the RCMP should pay dispatchers more for the work they do and that the wages offered are not competitive with the rest of the public sector.

The annual starting salary for an RCMP dispatcher in BC is $51,673.

CUPE 104 is currently negotiating its first collective agreement with the RCMP. Talks have been ongoing since 2021, the force said.

“The RCMP shares and supports the Canadian government’s commitment to reaching an agreement with RCMP 911 dispatchers that is fair to staff and fair to Canadians,” an RCMP spokesman said in a statement.

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