‘Alarming’ new evidence heard in class action trial
New evidence in a junior doctor’s wage theft class action case has emerged in court proceedings in Victoria, showing that staff were working excessive overtime hours.
In the ongoing class action trial in the Federal Court against Victorian public healthcare provider Peninsula Health, an email exchange presented as evidence has revealed that an executive staff member at Peninsula Health was told: “We are getting 150-plus hours for free each week from our guys.”
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“… Ninety per cent of the staff put down the rostered hours and not what they actually work. It looks like we are paying a lot, but we are getting 150-plus hours for free each week from our guys,” the email to former Peninsula Health executive Brendon Gardner, dated April 2016, stated.
The junior doctors leading the class action have said this email, among other evidence, supports their claim for the recovery of wages for many hours of un-rostered overtime, and putting an end to the systemic exploitation of junior doctors that endangers themselves and their patients.
According to AMA Victoria, this “alarming admission” adds salt to the wounds of junior doctors, who were portrayed during the trial as “mere trolley pushers who were more interested in impressing their supervisors than being ‘across the detail of all the patients’ under their care”.
President of AMA Victoria Dr Roderick McRae said that the comments made in court by Peninsula Health’s defence team were “contemptuous and demeaning”.
“The comments made by Peninsula Health’s defence team reflect a level of contempt for our junior doctors, plain and simple. This is particularly concerning given the views of Peninsula Health reflect the views of the Victorian Department of Health — the state’s top medical body,” he said.
“These class actions are a result of junior doctors across Victoria being fed up with the longstanding mistreatment they receive by their employers. That’s why they’re calling upon the government to intervene and bring an end to this terrible legacy of wage theft and worker exploitation that places doctors and patients at risk of harm.”
This news comes after the filing of a class action against Eastern Health and Royal Women’s Hospital in the Federal Court in October 2021 by Gordon Legal and law firm Hayden Stephens and Associates and followed previous court actions commenced against numerous other Victorian hospitals, including Peninsula Health.
More than 1,300 Victorian junior doctors have also joined the statewide legal campaign demanding repayment for un-rostered overtime as well as penalties against the hospitals for alleged breaches of the Fair Work Act.
The health services have been accused of underpaying junior doctors and requiring large amounts of overtime hours by staff; who claimed the industry is understaffed, junior doctors are systemically underpaid, and patients’ lives are being put at risk.
In addition, a new class action is set to be launched against Melbourne Health by the Australian Salaried Medical Officers’ Federation (ASMOF), along with individual junior doctors, for the same cause. This will make Melbourne Health the 11th Victorian health service facing these kinds of proceedings.
Victorian junior doctor Gavin Wayne said that these class actions are of extreme importance — as 60 per cent of Victorian doctors recently surveyed admitted to making a clinical error due to excessive workload.
“This acceptance of fatigue and overburden, and the subsequent mistakes it contributes to, is unsafe and not something that would be tolerated in any other profession. Fixing this longstanding issue is not just about patients. It’s also about us. It’s about acknowledging the shocking statistics of mental health disorders rife throughout the medical specialties, and the role that workplace conditions play in those statistics,” he said.
“At the end of the day, all we’re asking for is that the hours we work be acknowledged by our employer. This is for our patients’ sake, and our junior doctors’ sake, who every day must stand at the coalface of our buckling healthcare system.”