First, doctors won $230 million in backpay. Now, they’re getting pay rises worth thousands

Junior doctors will be thousands of dollars a year better off after the NSW government struck a deal to end a court battle with their union and agreed to improved working conditions that doctors say will make patients safer.

NSW Health this week settled its three-year Supreme Court dispute with the Australian Salaried Medical Officers Union (ASMOF) over alleged breaches of the medical officers award and failure to pay overtime and other allowances. The changes will cost the government upwards of $100 million over four years.

Yvonne Nguyen and Tom Morrison, two of the ASMOF doctors in training involved in negotiations with NSW Health.

Yvonne Nguyen and Tom Morrison, two of the ASMOF doctors in training involved in negotiations with NSW Health.Credit: Kate Geraghty

It comes after the state government agreed to pay $229.8 million, the largest underpayment settlement claim in Australian history, to resolve a class action launched on behalf of more than 20,000 junior doctors working in NSW hospitals for the last decade.

ASMOF NSW president Dr Nicholas Spooner said the union pursued its separate legal action because it wanted to address the health system’s overreliance on junior doctors working unpaid and unsafe levels of overtime.

“Our first goal was to ensure our members are paid what they are owed, but our most critical objective was to improve junior doctors’ working conditions and ensure that future generations of doctors won’t get burnt out and leave the system,” he said. “Patients lose out when our hospitals don’t have enough doctors … [these are] changes that will help to keep junior doctors in our public hospitals.”

As part of its settlement, NSW Health has agreed to more generous allowances for doctors on call overnight, and update the award to ensure third-year doctors working as registrars (those training in a sub-specialty, such as surgery) are appropriately compensated.

The union had alleged NSW Health was breaching the award by paying registrars as third-year residents, and therefore underpaying its junior doctor workforce to the tune of millions of dollars a year.

Dr Yvonne Nguyen, one of the union representatives negotiating the settlement, said women were even less likely to claim overtime and allowances, creating a huge deterrent for young doctors coming through the system.

“When I was a student I saw residents and registrars arriving two hours early to work and staying back three to four hours every day. It made me never want to work at those hospitals, and unsurprisingly, those hospitals have ongoing staffing problems,” she said. “Without accurately capturing how much workload there is, the hospitals do not have any impetus to recruit the right number of doctors to be able to safely staff our hospitals.”

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