21 August 2020

Audit launched into ACT health services after junior doctors underpaid

| Dominic Giannini
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Canberra Hospital

Junior doctors have raised concerns about underpayments related to public holiday rates. Photo: File.

An audit into Canberra Health Services (CHS) is underway to determine how up to 600 junior medical officers (JMOs), or prevocational doctors, were underpaid public holiday pay rates.

The audit was launched after a prevocational doctor raised concerns with ACT Health on 28 June after auditing the pay of 28 other junior doctors over a six-month period.

An email went out the next day alerting all JMOs to the mistake and prompting them to contact the department if they thought they had been underpaid as well.

The issue appears to only affect junior doctors. The ACT Branch of the Australian Nursery and Midwifery Federation told Region Media it is not aware of any nurses or midwives being underpaid.

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Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith says any concerns regarding underpayment or working conditions are always investigated immediately.

“When you have a staff of 7500 with complex rosters, who work on public holidays, who work overtime, there are going to be instances when those things do not all add up and people do draw that to our attention and it gets resolved and it gets investigated,” she said.

Rachel Stephen-Smith

Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith says all concerns are taken seriously and investigated immediately. Photo: Dominic Giannini.

The revelation led to Shadow Health Minister Vicki Dunne calling the payroll system “cumbersome” and comparing the underpayment to wage theft.

“Ridiculous administrative burdens on top of unconscionable work hours are robbing health workers of overtime entitlements,” Ms Dunne said.

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“Junior doctors are forced to work between 80 and 90 hours per week and are not given adequate rostered days off due to chronic understaffing.

“Hospital staff, especially junior doctors, are tired, sick and burnt out from working double shifts – up to 80 and 90 hours per week – in a highly stressful workplace. But for a junior doctor to claim overtime is onerous, and administratively difficult to process. They know that they are regularly underpaid.”

The Canberra Liberals called for an independent pay audit yesterday (20 August); however, Ms Stephen-Smith countered that an investigation was already underway.

Vicki Dunne

Shadow Health Minister Vicki Dunne has called the current payment system cumbersome. Photo: Region Media.

“I am really disappointed with the way Ms Dunne has raised this matter – at the 11th hour. She amended the motion to call for something that she has never sought a briefing on [and] has never raised,” Ms Stephen-Smith said during the penultimate Assembly sitting day ahead of the ACT election.

“If she had sought a briefing, I could have let her know that these issues have already been raised with CHS.

“CHS is already looking into this, there are already investigations underway as there is whenever a staff member or their union raises concerns about any pay and conditions.”

Changes to the pay system are being rolled out across ACT Health which the ACT Government says will reduce the likelihood of the underpayment error occurring again.

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