Class action brought against 2 Victorian health services

Class action brought against 2 Victorian health services

31 October 2021 By Lauren Croft
Class action brought against 2 Victorian health services

Over 80 junior doctors have alleged excessive working hours and underpayment of wages in a class action launched against two of Victoria’s health services.

Eastern Health and Royal Women’s Hospital are being accused of underpaying staff and requiring large amounts of overtime hours by staff who have claimed the industry is understaffed, junior doctors are systemically underpaid, and patients’ lives are being put at risk.

The class action, filed in the Federal Court in October, is being run by Gordon Legal and law firm Hayden Stephens and Associates, has been launched by several junior doctors, together with the doctors’ union, ASMOF Victoria. It follows court actions commenced over the past nine months against Peninsula Health, Monash Health and Latrobe Regional Hospital, and more recently, against Western Health.

Over 80 junior doctors have registered their interest in being part of the class action. Additionally, more than 1,300 Victorian junior doctors have joined the state-wide legal campaign demanding repayment for un-rostered overtime as well as penalties against the hospitals for alleged breaches of the Fair Work Act.

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Seb O’Meara, Gordon Legal senior associate, told Lawyers Weekly that four class actions had commenced so far to ensure that junior doctors are paid for overtime hours.

“To date, four class actions have been commenced: ASMOF and Anor v Peninsula Health; ASMOF and Anor v Monash Health and Latrobe Regional Hospital; ASMOF and Anor v Western Health; and most recently, ASMOF and Anor v Eastern Health and The Royal Women’s Hospital,” he said.

“It is hoped that if overtime is properly accounted for, the health services will, in an attempt to reduce the high cost of overtime rates, review rostering and staffing levels, and ultimately come up with more efficient and safer ways to provide medical services to patients without relying so heavily on the overtime of junior doctors.

“If this occurs, the ultimate benefit will be to patients. Excessively long shifts are a risk to not only the doctors who work them but also patients who are treated by overworked and fatigued doctors,” Mr O’Meara added.

A 30-year-old junior doctor who has worked in several Melbourne hospitals and preferred not to be identified said that junior doctors would often work up to 25 extra hours of overtime a week, most of which are unpaid.

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“We’re talking about prescribing medications, keeping accurate records, and performing procedures where precision and accuracy matters. Getting it wrong can have horrific consequences for patients,” she said.

“It’s no wonder our profession has higher incidences of mental health problems and suicide. And the tragedy of it all is that we don’t speak out about these issues in fear our careers will be at risk.”

President of the junior doctors’ union, ASMOF Victoria and president of AMA Victoria, Dr Roderick McRae, said junior doctors working in public hospitals are often working excessive hours, putting both their patients and themselves at risk, now exacerbated by managing very ill COVID-19 patients.

“And on top of this, many are not being paid for the work they are doing. We are taking legal action as a last resort. Our frontline workers understand the meaning of pressure better than most at present,” he said.

“All we’re asking is for what’s fair. The Victorian government could fix this problem with the stroke of a pen. I call upon Health Minister Martin Foley to lead the way and to implement changes that bring fair working conditions for junior doctors.”

Mr O’Meara added that the proceeding against Eastern Health and The Royal Women’s Hospital would be listed for a first case management hearing in the coming weeks, with the proceeding against Peninsula Health has been listed for trial in June 2022.

“The health services need to properly account for the overtime worked by their junior doctors in accordance with their obligations under the relevant enterprise agreements,” he said.

“If they feel the sting of having to pay overtime rates to a large cohort of their medical workforce, it is hoped they will quickly find more efficient ways to treat Victorian patients.”

Hayden Stephens said the Victorian action involves at least 15,000 junior doctors who, it will be claimed, are entitled to be paid for the unpaid overtime they worked over the past six years.

“This is not limited to one hospital or a single region. Dangerous hours and underpayment of junior doctors is widespread and systemic, with Victoria clearly no exception,” he said.

“Doctors should register their interest at either the AMA Victoria website or at Gordon Legal. We understand doctors’ concern around fear for their careers. We, therefore, can assure doctors it’s 100 per cent confidential.”

Class action brought against 2 Victorian health services
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