VANCOUVER - Paramedics across British Columbia are set to launch job action Wednesday, but the union says ambulances will still be on the road and patients are unlikely to notice.

The paramedics are considered essential workers, meaning BC Ambulance's 3,500 paramedics can't stage a full-scale walkout.

Instead, paramedics will skip administrative tasks, such as routine paperwork and shuffling ambulances to service centres, said B.J. Chute of Ambulance Paramedics of B.C.

"Certainly, we don't want to see anybody go without an ambulance in their time of need," Chute said in an interview Sunday.

"It really does cause chaos for the government to run the ambulance service without the assistance of paramedics doing the administrative tasks that we do."

The deputy labour minister, Paul Straszak, met with both sides over the weekend and concluded there was no hope of averting a strike.

The paramedics' contract expires April 1, with both sides far apart on issues of pay and the length of a collective agreement.

The union wants wages increases of about four per cent per year, over four years, which it says would bring BC Ambulance paramedics' salaries in line with other emergency workers.

The province has instead offered a one-year contract with a three per cent pay increase, but the union says the province's latest offer would make B.C. paramedics the lowest-paid emergency-service workers in the province.

The union also wants improvements to working conditions that it says have slowed emergency response times.

"I think we're a fair ways apart," said Chute.

B.C. Labour Minister Iain Black said the strike is "inevitable," and he said further negotiations could be complicated by the coming provincial election.

Black said once the legislature is dissolved on April 14, the province can't offer any more money or table back-to-work legislation until after the May 12 vote.

However, Black wouldn't say whether either of those two options are on the table, only saying the province is considering "next steps."

"There is virtually no chance of a settlement before April 14," Black said Sunday in a conference call with reporters.

"Government's ability to respond to the negotiations and to any impact on the work disruptions are restricted once the legislature has been dissolved."

The labour minister also wouldn't say whether the province plans to intervene in any way before the election writ is dropped.

Black said negotiations could still happen during an election campaign, although no new talks are currently planned.

Paramedics voted 96 per cent in favour of strike on Feb. 25. They served 72-hours' notice over the weekend.