St John workers were left "heartbroken" and "irate" after reading their employer was going to use some of its $21m to recover money from recent industrial action.
And the payment appears to have made the negotiation process even more complicated for St John as the three unions involved disagree on whether to walk out on the job.
However, all were upset at news in an internal newsletter that one of the organisation's "urgent needs" was to pay itself back for $2m in lost revenue from this year's strike action.
The Government this week announced $21 million would be paid out to ambulance providers - St John and Wellington Free Ambulance - in a bid to relieve the pressure some of the providers are under.
Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters went a step further by hinting the public could be confident that the organisation would be "95 per cent" funded by central Government in the near future.
Making its own announcement shortly afterwards, St John, through chief executive Peter Bradley, said it showed that the Government had been listening to its concerns and growing demand.
However, comment in an internal St John bulletin as to what it would be spent on has sparked anger among a lot of staff.
While publicly announcing it aimed to move staff out of its leaky 111 clinical communications centre in Auckland, another "urgent need" was "recovering the $2m in revenue we've lost due to the industrial action".
St John has since said it hadn't determined what any of the money would be spent on, but moving staff out of the leaky building was a prospect.
Sarah Stone, of First Union - which represents about 1000 of the 1300 unionised staff at the organisation - described the recouping of the $2m as "awful".
"The thing that really, really was just a final straw is that they are going to use the money to pay off the strike debt. This is money from a Labour-led government, that workers campaigned for ... this is just a complete slap in the face.
"This is St John really just saying 'we don't care about you, we will take your money'."
Stone said the approximate 1000 of 1300 union workers they represent were now so fed up that a staff walk-out was on the table.
"Now they've had it ... Unfortunately all we've got left is withdrawal of labour ... basically, members have told us. I'm not saying that we have a planned action right now but they haven't listened to any other small actions that we've done.
"Members have given us a really strong indication that they just can't take it anymore and I don't think doing anther small strike action will do it."
She said staff were leaving Auckland as they and their families couldn't survive on the wage.
"The pay at the moment doesn't include any extra for working nights and working weekends."
Emergency medical assistants were starting on $19.10 an hour, she said.
"Those people often are qualified as emergency medical technicians. So really their rate of pay should be $25 an hour."
Union staff were also disappointed as they'd hoped some of the $21m could have been spent on staff wages to tide them over until its next budget announcement next year.
'No commitment made on how the $21m will be spent'
Peter Bradley, St John's chief executive, told the Herald they hoped to "address some urgent needs such as moving our 111 Clinical Communications Centre people out of a leaky building and into a fit-for-purpose space, recovering and continuing to pay the unbudgeted costs associated with extra frontline paramedics recruited into Christchurch in February, and putting more paramedics on the road in Auckland to ease the pressure on our frontline staff".
"Nothing has been confirmed or ruled out and we will now take the time to discuss with our board and determine how best to appropriate these funds."
In his statement, Bradley did not directly respond to paying itself back the $2m in lost revenue.
The current workplace review being carried would consider the scope of ambulance work, he said.
Last December St John submitted an initial funding bid of over $350 million which included a "sizeable amount to address staff remuneration and the recommendations that come out of the workforce review".
"This review will consider the scope of ambulance work today, including shift patterns, clinical training and how our ambulance officers are rewarded for their skills."
'Morale is horrendous - and that's a pretty global statement'
An intensive care paramedic based in Auckland told the Herald the area had lost a "huge amount of staff" this year.
Senior staff - including intensive care paramedics and paramedics - made up the majority and he claimed were being replaced by students, or "unqualified first responders".
"We've got unqualified first responders, halfway through their bachelors degrees with no qualifications and no experience who are stepping in to replace these guys."
Those that were leaving were either being transferred to a different department or heading to companies like Healthline, universities or working at various rescue helicopter trusts around the country.
"Our skills are largely non-interchangeable. There's been lots of work around trying to sort that out ... but has been put on hold due to the industrial action."
The level of responsibility on intensive care paramedics had increased dramatically over the 10 years.
"We went from, 10 years ago ... giving intramuscular injections and carrying two vials of morphine and being able to give intravenous fluid and that's about it.
"Now we carry 47 different drugs and can paralyse people, sedate people and can do all sorts of gnarly stuff but that hasn't been associated with an increase in our remuneration and that's a large part of what we're striking against."
He was working on Tuesday morning as the Government announced its cash injection.
But the good news soon turned to anger after they learned from the St John Bulletin newsletter that $2m of the $21m would be spent recouping funds from strike action this year.
"In St John's announcement, earmarking what the money was going to be used for was recouping funds lost in the industrial action, which was, the biggest f*** you probably that we have had throughout the whole [strike] thing.
"Using the funds that we lobbied for to recoup the funds that our strike action cost them."
The staffer said he felt "literal heartbreak" hearing the news.
"There was a bunch of us and over the course of the day, I would have spoken to a couple of dozen people about it, and it was just outrage.
"I can't even begin to describe it, it wasn't just like we were bummed or anything. It was absolute complete outrage and especially that specific announcement that they were going to use the money that we lobbied for to pay themselves back for the money we cost them."
He said there had since been an "unofficial survey" about walking off the job and claims between 80 and 90 per cent of staff were in favour of it.
"Skill dilution" - where experienced staff were being replaced by graduates or the less skilled - was now "a very big thing".
"There's been a massive efflux that has hit Auckland which in the last three months has lost legitimately about a century's worth of intensive care paramedic experience ... and they have been replace with ... bums on seats."
He claimed there currently are half the number of intensive care paramedics in Auckland of what there should be.
"It absolutely puts patients at risk because we're just not able to be there.
A way of tackling it would see them pull a manager out of an office, who are mostly ICP, and send them to the scene.
Bradley rejected the staff member and First Union's claims around staff turnover.
"The claims put forward are incorrect. In the past year, staff turnover of St John ambulances officers has remained stable, and is less than in 2016 and 2017. While there is always small fluctuations, in 2019, the rate of experienced staff leaving St John has reduced."
'Our members have a slightly different perspective'
The NZ Ambulance Association [NZAA] and Amalgamated Workers Union of NZ [Awunz] represent the remaining 300 union staff. There are another approximate 300 workers who do not belong to either union.
NZAA chief executive Mark Quin said his members were aware they wouldn't get any of the $21m.
He said their members were more regionally-based, from Hawke's Bay, Central Plateau and Taranaki down to Invercargill with a crossover of representation in the Waikato.
"We're a bit more positive and realistic around the claims and that the offer could be improved but that it needs to be properly worked through."
He said St John was going through a huge period of change and which not involved a review to develop a long-term funding model, but also how the staff were now trained.
"Wanting to pay paramedics and ambulance officers at the rate that they should be paid but there's a huge amount of work that needs to be done to work out what that is.
"We don't know what that looks like. We want to get the pay dispute sorted and we knew that the Government were not going to hand over an amount of money to solve the pay dispute completely."
He said members were "frustrated" with St John but they wanted to focus on getting a result.
However, news that St John was looking to pay itself back the $2m lost due to strike action, did not go down well.
"The feedback I've got in the past couple of days, they have been a little bit irate, I suppose, about it.
"That's where we probably are with First Union. There has been some disappointment that that's what they're doing."
He said he did feel for St John trying negotiate with two sets of unions who didn't totally agree about a way forward themselves.
As for walking off the job, Quin said that was something his members wouldn't contemplate as they didn't want to compromise patient safety.
"They will not even entertain it. They have a different view. A lot of our members come from a community, they've come up as a volunteer, and working in the community.
"Whereas Auckland is like a bubble compared to the rest of the country because they do not have that base. They come directly out of university."
He said the St John workforce was in significant transitional change, both in terms of the age of the workforce and the tertiary qualification that young ones were now coming through with.
"It's a changing workforce, we've changed the age of our workforce, we've changed from vocationally changed to tertiary changed. We're in a really transitional phase over, particularly, the past five years.
"The paramedicine and paramedic workforce is changing quite quickly when you compare to say nursing and other professions."