Legal action has begun on behalf of junior doctors, who say they have been deliberately underpaid after working overtime in Victoria’s public health system.
A class action has been filed in the Federal Court against Peninsula Health, alleging the underpayment of a junior doctor.
Lawyers are planning to bring other class actions, amid claims of systemic underpayment by other health services in the public system.
Lawyer Hayden Stephens said some junior doctors were working up to 25 hours a week beyond their rostered hours, and many of those hours were unpaid.
“That, in combination with their own genuine concern that this will impact their care and ability to look after patients, together with their own mental health … are issues in which we are calling Victorian health services to address,” he said.
Mr Stephens said the legal action could ultimately affect more than 10,000 junior doctors in Victoria.
“This is a claim for unpaid entitlements, it’s not a claim seeking additional wages.”
“It’s nothing more than junior doctors employed in the Victorian health system being paid for their hours work and their fair entitlements, entitlements that have been agreed to by their very own employers.”
In a statement, Peninsula Health’s Chief Medical Officer, Shyaman Menon, said the organisation “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,” Dr Menon said.
Doctors reluctant to complain about overtime
Doctor Karla Villafana-Soto said she had been so exhausted after working overtime on shifts that she had made mistakes with medication and doses, that had luckily been caught by other staff.
She claims the underpayment of junior doctors for overtime they’ve worked is widespread in the public hospital system in Victoria.
“This is now my eighth year of being a junior doctor and I’ve worked at several health services in Victoria, and I can tell you this is happening everywhere,” she said.
“The class action has come up really as a point of last resort after, for many years, many of us have tried to get this issue addressed, and it just hasn’t been.”
Dr Villafana-Soto claims junior medical staff are reluctant to raise concerns about underpayment for fear of getting their superiors offside.
“You learn very quickly that upsetting supervisors or hospital administration will possibly result in you possibly not getting a job the following year, because most of us are employed for 12 months at a time,” she said.
The Victorian President of the Australian Salaried Medical Officers Federation, Roderick McRae, said it was impossible to estimate the true cost of properly paying junior medical staff in Victoria’s public health system.
“Everybody understands they’re in the game to look after patients, so they’re not going to down tools,” he said.
“At the same time, there needs to be a reasonable balance and appropriate compensation when those events occur.”
The legal action is being supported by AMA Victoria, which is calling for more doctors to come forward and join the class action.
An AMA Victoria survey conducted last year found junior doctors were working on average 16 hours of overtime a week, mostly without pay.