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Heat mounts on Queensland Health over draconian contracts

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The AMA has reiterated its objection to “unfair and unbalanced” employment contracts the Queensland Government is seeking to impose on Senior Medical Officers employed by the state’s public hospitals.

In a strongly-worded statement issued late last week, the Federal AMA and AMA Queensland said they remained “steadfastly opposed” to the contracts and strongly advised members not to accept them.

The storm of protest that erupted when the contracts were first unveiled last October has continued unabated ever since, with doctors from around the country and internationally uniting to condemn the new employment arrangements due to come into effect from 1 July.

The individual contracts, the details of which were published by the Queensland Department of Health on its website last week, strip away key employment rights and protections, including fatigue provisions, rest breaks, limits on hours, and unfair dismissal and dispute resolution procedures.

“We maintain that the contract framework is unfair, unbalanced and disadvantages all SMOs,” the Federal and Queensland AMAs said in a joint statement, warning that they would compromise the ability of Queensland public hospitals to attract and retain key medical staff, potentially undermining patient care.

“The proposed contracts will discourage doctors from working in the Queensland health system, and this would hurt our patients by further limiting their access to high quality medical services,” the statement said.

Already, doctors in New Zealand – a key recruiting area for Australian hospitals – have been warned by their representative organisations to “steer clear” of job offers from Queensland public hospitals, and doctors nationwide have received similar warnings.

As fears of a crisis in public hospital care in Queensland mount, the AMA has called on the Queensland Government to reconsider its approach and enter into negotiations for fairer and more acceptable contracts.

“Both the Federal AMA and AMA Queensland are urging the State Government to rethink its position and reopen negotiations with AMA Queensland,” the Associations said in their joint statement. “We will continue pushing for this outcome and we will continue to publicly highlight the unfairness of the current contracts and the damage they will cause our health system.”

The AMA has advised members to reject offers to negotiate individual contracts, and has strongly recommended that they refuse to sign anything “until you have seen and read a final copy of the contract”.

“Despite numerous requests,” the AMA said, “Queensland Health is yet to provide doctors with the key information vital to the contracts – for example, KPI [key performance indicator] requirements, policies applicable to the contract, private practice framework and guidelines, and your individual remuneration.”

Both the Federal AMA and AMA Queensland are working closely with other medical groups, particularly the Australian Salaried Medical Officers Federation, to convince the Queensland Government to change its plans.

AMA Queensland said that it was pushing Queensland Health to address a number of key concerns, including the absence of a binding arbitration process for dispute resolution, the capacity for arbitrary dismissal, the lack of a no disadvantage clause, enforced shift work and tier 3 KPIs being tied to income.

Adrian Rollins