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AMA (WA) | Hon Bill Johnston

Hon. Bill Johnston weighs in on the AMA (WA)’s negotiations with WA Health

Monday November 9, 2020

Hon. Bill Johnston

In July 2020, as part of our EBA advocacy, the Australian Medical Association (WA) wrote to Hon. Bill Johnston, Minister for Industrial Relations, in the hope that sharing some of the medical profession’s concerns would assist in progressing negotiations. The Minister’s response to us in October reflects WA Health’s prioritisation of administrative control over doctor wellbeing and patient outcomes.

What follows are some extracts from the Minister’s letter – and our response:

“I have been advised that the AMA traded  away permanency in 1996 for maximum five year contracts and other benefits including significant salary increases and improved conditions. “I appreciate that your membership is unlikely to accept commensurate salary reductions to reinstate permanency.” – Hon. Bill Johnston

  • This is a mischaracterisation of the 1996 Agreement, in which WA Health agreed to address the large discrepancy between the salaries of WA full-time and part-time doctors and WA sessional and interstate public hospital doctors, who at that point were paid significantly more, contributing to recruitment difficulties, workforce shortages and brain drain.
  • The 1996 Agreement has been replaced by seven subsequent negotiated agreements.
  • Consider this – 55 per cent of current AMA (WA) members were not doctors when the 1996 Agreement was registered – some weren’t even born!
  • St John of God Health Care and Ramsay Health Care operate WA public hospitals, with salaries, terms and conditions at least equal to WA Health, and engage senior doctors on permanent contracts.
  • So what is Hon. Bill Johnston suggesting? That WA doctors – who are not the highest paid in Australia, with many states offering more lucrative salary and conditions, in addition to permanent employment – take a pay cut? The AMA (WA) strongly rejects the contention that your wellbeing and  ultimately patient safety, should be traded for a portion of your salary!

“…the offer made by WA Health on 28 May 2020 seeks to address AMA concerns regarding the use of shorter fixed term contracts…” – Hon. Bill Johnston

The AMA (WA) is concerned about the abuse of shorter fixed-term contracts. The current Agreement prescribes the right to either a five-year appointment, or a contract of up to six months, but only for short-term exigencies. WA Health’s offer seeks to legitimise non-compliance with the current Agreement: successive six-month appointments and fixed term contracts of any length between six months and five years, as unilaterally determined by the Employer. To accept this would be agreeing to a significant reduction in doctors’ current entitlements – greater uncertainty and less security for senior doctors.

“… in respect of a 5 year contract not being renewed for a Senior Medical Practitioner, while there is no automatic right to a subsequent offer of employment, I would support an obligation on the part of the Employer to provide written advice of the reasons for the decision not to renew a contract.” – Hon. Bill Johnston

  • Providing justification for an employer’s decision not to renew a contract will not prevent employers from acting with impunity. The AMA (WA) sees this firsthand, with employers citing vague notions of  operational factors or budget constraints as sufficient reason for non-renewal.

It will not ensure the renewal process is more robust or equitable.
It will not allow doctors to raise concerns about patient safety.
It will not prevent executive retribution.

“WA Health has advised it is unable to accommodate all the portability/retention provisions as proposed by AMA on the grounds they are operationally unviable and would result in significant cost implications.” – Hon. Bill Johnston

Accrued entitlements are ultimately lost or paid out; our claim to allow DiTs the ability to port or park entitlements and service will not alter this fact. It will, however, prevent the opportunistic erosion of accrued entitlements, where DiTs are only required to leave WA Health temporarily for training purposes. It will also:

  • encourage WA doctors to return to WA’s public hospital system following a period of professional development, and be able to access paid parentalleave, or sick leave;
  • ensure that the government decision to privatise state services does not negatively impact DiTs whoare routinely required to change employers;
  • enable DiTs, uniquely employed on contracts of 6-12 months, to rely on the public sector principleof portability of entitlements, which is already available to every other public sector worker.

“I genuinely appreciate the contributions of doctors in supporting the community through the COVID-19 pandemic.” – Hon. Bill Johnston

  • Then why is Hon. Bill Johnston prepared to perpetuate processes that:
    • expose senior doctors to bureaucratic process, which impact their wellbeing and place them in the unenviable reality of having to choose between raising concerns (including concerns relating to system efficiency and patient safety) and their future employment opportunities?
    • Or that rely on the unique way DiTs are employed to arbitrarily deny them fair access to accrued entitlements and service recognition?
  • Particularly when the commitment, skill and advice of WA doctors has contributed to WA’s current economic success and prevented potentially tens of thousands of COVID-19 related deaths.