#93 Doctors are being short-changed by public hospitals


5 August 2019

In August 2015, the former chairman of consumer watchdog the ACCC, Professor Allan Fels, slammed the 7-Eleven franchise model saying that, “The only way a franchisee can make a go of it in most cases is by underpaying workers, by illegal behaviour. I don't like that kind of model."

His blistering assessment followed allegations of widespread underpayment of wages and the doctoring of payroll records within Australia's biggest convenience store chain. Subsequently, a number of 7-Eleven operators were fined for short-changing workers and falsifying records to conceal their underpayments. Furthermore, the 7-Eleven Chairman Russ Withers resigned from the board, along with the chief executive officer Warren Wilmot and another senior executive, in the wake of this worker exploitation scandal.

Of course, wage theft of this sort has become commonplace in recent years and some argue that it has emerged as a successful business model for many organisations.Wage theft arises when employers deliberately underpay workers by refusing to pay mandatory entitlements such as overtime, long service leave or shift allowances. And while it is unfortunately affecting thousands of low-paid employees every year, AMA Victoria is suspicious that a similar approach is being taken by Victoria’s public hospitals. 

As members will recall, AMA Victoria and ASMOF negotiated new enterprise agreements for specialist doctors and doctors-in-training (DiTs) with the Victorian Government, which were certified by the Fair Work Commission on 31 July, 2018 and became effective from 9 August, 2018. 

These agreements delivered significant pay increases and were widely welcomed by the profession. They were also supported by additional funding from the Department of Health and Human Services. This was confirmed in a letter provided to AMA Victoria on 20 August last year, where Secretary Kym Peake assured us that, “The Department of Health and Human Services has released recurrent funding to the affected public hospitals and health services to support the implementation of these new enterprise agreements”. 

However, over the ensuing months a number of industrial disputes have arisen which make us doubt whether sufficient support for our health services has been forthcoming. As a consequence, health services appear to be selectively interpreting the two enterprise agreements to the disadvantage of many public hospital doctors. Executives of one of our largest health services have even suggested that they cannot fully implement these entitlements due to insufficient funding and a very large deficit for 2018-19.

In particular, the disputes relate to the following subject matters:

  1. Long service leave entitlements of fractional specialists who are concurrently employed by two or more health services. 
  2. The continuity of service for long service leave purposes of doctors who are on zero hours casual contracts, but have not worked any hours whilst on that contract. 
  3. The date upon which a specialist is considered to have become a specialist, for the purpose of determining the remuneration level of the specialist. 
  4. The service, including periods of leave, of specialists which health services will take into account for the purpose of determining the remuneration level of the specialist. 
  5. The interpretation, application, and implementation by health services of Clinical Support Time (CST). 
  6. The interpretation, application and implementation by health services of Continuing Medical Education (CME) support. 
  7. The action of health services to use the interpretation, application and implementation of clause 32* to arbitrarily reduce the superannuation contributions made by health services for the benefit of specialist doctors. 
  8. The entitlement of doctors to be paid for a public holiday which falls on a day on which the doctor is not rostered to work. 

The exact details of each dispute have been provided to the State Government and the Fair Work Commission, including the steps taken to resolve each part under the established dispute resolution procedure. 

However, it would seem that some health services are determined to circumvent their obligations to public hospital doctors and are being “mean and tricky” in their interpretation of these two agreements. Furthermore, it appears likely that health services are coordinating their arbitrary restrictions in order to avoid the widespread adoption of some of these contractual entitlements.

Consequently, AMA Victoria and ASMOF have applied to initiate a formal hearing of these disputesvia the Fair Work Commission. This is an application for the Commission to deal with our disputes in the first instance via conciliation, but to proceed to an arbitrated decision if no progress is made. We will naturally keep members fully informed as this dispute evolves.

A/Prof Julian Rait OAM

*The full enterprise agreements, including an explanation of the clauses, can be found at amavic.com.au/enterprise-agreement

This article appears in the August 2019 edition of Vicdoc magazine.

AMA Victoria Preferred Suppliers