Junior doctors in Victoria have filed the first of several class actions claiming that health providers have underpaid them millions of dollars in overtime.
The doctors at Peninsula Health earning between $79,000 and $146,000 a year said on Monday they work an average 16 hours unpaid overtime a week and that the excessive hours are creating risks to patients’ health and safety.
The Federal Court action, which seeks backpay and penalties, is the first of at least six actions expected to be lodged against Victorian health providers in the coming months and covering some 10,000 junior doctors in the state.
Dr Karla Villafana-Soto, a junior doctor, said the doctors’ first priority was always to their patients but that “excessive workloads and poor staffing by health services have resulted in junior doctors having to pick up the slack to ensure proper patient care”.
“This is a wake up call to the Victorian public health network that must stop relying on tired and underpaid junior doctors to prop up a broken system,” she said.
Australian Salaried Medical Officers Federation Victorian president Dr Roderick McRae, whose members are part of the action, said crippling fatigue was placing patients at risk.
“Fundamentally this is a systemic failing across our health system. Unpaid labour is ingrained into the business model and it must stop,” he said.
Health service providers in Victoria are covered by an enterprise agreement that says interns, residents, medical officers and registrars are required to work 38 to 44 hours a week and beyond that is overtime pay.
Lawyer Hayden Stephens, who is running the cases in conjunction with Gordon Legal, said it was not unusual for junior doctors on at least $40 an hour to work 20 or 30 per cent more than their weekly ordinary hours.
However, he claimed health providers were hiding behind pre-approval requirements for overtime that doctors often can’t comply with during emergencies.
There was also a culture in the sector, he said, where doctors making overtime claims are seen to be inefficient.
“What we’re seeing for several years is these doctors are required and authorised to work hours in addition to ordinary hours with many of those hours unpaid,” he said.
“This is nothing more than a cohort of junior doctors seeking pay for hours they’ve actually worked.”
Survey found junior doctors work an average 16 hours overtime a week with some working up to 25 hours, mostly without pay.
Chief Medical Officer of Peninsula Health Dr Shyaman Menon said the company “respects the rights of all staff, including the receipt of any payments to which they are entitled”.
“Our junior doctors are the future of our organisation and we acknowledge the important contribution they make across all our hospitals and healthcare sites.”
An Australian Medical Association Victoria Hospital survey found junior doctors work an average 16 hours of overtime a week with some often working up to 25 hours extra a week, mostly without pay.
The Victorian class action follows another action led by Hayden Stephens & Associates, this time in conjunction with Maurice Blackburn, against NSW Health over junior doctors’ unpaid overtime.
Unpaid excessive hours has become a hot issue in traditionally prestigious white collar professions in recent years,
For the past 12 months top-tier law firms have been forced to backpay junior lawyers thousands of dollars each because their lengthy hours dragged their salaries below minimum rates in the award.
Unions are also gearing up to organise technology workers, including at video game developers and big tech giants like Google, over claims of unpaid overtime.