THE NSW Industrial Relations Commission has issued a “very strong” recommendation to Hunter New England Health over John Hunter Hospital emergency department staff specialist pay after criticising “backroom analysis” of $791,000 in public holiday pay that led to commission action.
Commissioner John Stanton criticised the health service for failing “to undertake proper consultation with a group of emergency physicians who work under extreme pressure to deliver clinical services to an ever-expanding client base” in August, 2016 when it stopped paying doctors for public holidays where they were not rostered to work.
“It is unfortunate that in this particular industrial dispute Hunter New England Health allowed a ‘backroom analysis’ to unilaterally remove a long-standing condition of employment that has been in place within the emergency department of the hospital and elsewhere within NSW without first consulting those staff specialists immediately affected,” Mr Stanton said.
The health service advised doctors they had received such payments since 2006 “in error”, because their award did not stipulate what should happen if doctors don’t work on public holidays, although it does require a penalty to be paid if doctors do.
Hunter New England Local Health District told a hearing before commissioner John Stanton that the payment to staff specialists who weren’t rostered to work on public holidays cost $791,000 between January, 2013 and January, 2017.
It is unfortunate that in this particular industrial dispute Hunter New England Health allowed a ‘backroom analysis’ to unilaterally remove a long-standing condition of employment that has been in place within the emergency department of the hospital and elsewhere within NSW without first consulting those staff specialists immediately affected.NSW Industrial Relations Commission
Data showed an average nine staff specialists were paid on each public holiday where they were not rostered to work, with a total of 460 shifts over the four years.
The health service argued it was “an inefficient use of resources” and the shifts could have been rostered on other days so that staff could “provide clinical care to patients or perform other non-clerical duties”.
By ceasing the practice “the hospital would be able to better manage staff shortages, provide improved supervision for junior medical officers as well as roster flexibility to ensure the best care for patients at all times”, Commissioner Stanton was told.
The Australian Salaried Medical Officers Association said the health service was trying to “unilaterally withdraw a long-standing benefit to emergency physicians” and “now tries to fiddle with the rosters on a week in, week out basis and makes adjustments in contemplation of weeks where public holidays fall”.
Mr Stanton noted the health service had “sought to exercise its rights under the Award and vary rostered hours to ensure emergency department staff specialists are given zero rostered hours on a public holiday”.
The association sought a direction from the commission to the health service to “preserve the pre-existing status quo” of paying emergency department staff specialists for public holidays where they weren’t rostered to work.
Mr Stanton declined to make a direction because it might make a “new and binding legal obligation” with impacts across other NSW hospitals. But he made a “very strong recommendation” that the health service continue paying doctors for public holidays as it had for a decade before August, 2006. He recommended that continue until the current Award expires in June, 2019.