VICTORIA - Ambulance paramedics have set up picket lines at five locations around British Columbia as they launch a strike to back demands for better wages and working conditions.

John Strohmaier, president of the Ambulance Paramedics of B.C., says CUPE local 873 members began job action Wednesday morning as their contract with the B.C. Ambulance Service expired.

He confirms pickets are up at five main locations, including the provincial and regional headquarters of the B.C. Ambulance Service in Victoria and regional headquarters in Vancouver, Kamloops and Prince George.

Essential service legislation ensures ambulances will stay on the road, but the province's 35,000 paramedics will refuse administrative or other duties.

Strohmaier says his members are paid as much as 23 per cent less than some paramedics in Ontario and he says the B.C. union is holding out for a four year contract containing total increases of 16 per cent.

The B.C. Ambulance Service, which bargains on behalf of the province, has offered a one year contract containing a signing bonus and a three per cent wage increase.