The Queensland Government has released a statement outlining why it believes doctors should sign the unfair individual contracts. 

Below is what the Government said, via a statement from Assistant Minister Chris Davis, – and then the real facts.

Government claim: The contracts are perpetual and not time limited

This statement is not true.

  • The contracts allow for arbitrary dismissal and no right to an unfair dismissal remedy. The Hospital Board (who are responsible to the Minister) can terminate employees without providing any reason. This allows doctors to be terminated for advocating for the best outcomes for patients and is a reduction in job security. This clause can also be used to intimidate and bully doctors in relation to any other industrial or clinical issue by holding termination over their heads.
  • This means that non-medical managers have the power to interfere with clinical decisions and will compromise patient safety.
  • The D-G of Health (responsible to the Minister or Assistant Minister) can unilaterally vary the contract or any part of it at any time without agreement or consultation providing no certainty of terms for any SMO.

Government claim: The contracts allow doctors to receive six months’ salary, instead of the current three months if they are terminated

  • According to Chief Human Resource Officer, the increase in notice period was included to attempt to compensate doctors for loss of unfair dismissal remedy, however the primary remedy for unfair dismissal is reinstatement to employment and is no longer available to senior doctors who have been unlawfully or unfairly terminated
  • The D-G of Health (acting on the direction of the Minister or Assistant Minister) can unilaterally reduce this at any time.
  • The proposed contract framework also imposes a 6 month notice period on a doctor resigning employment making it very difficult to obtain other employment arrangements. This is particularly abhorrent as the D-G can literally change the working conditions of doctors.  This means that the Minister or Assistant Minister can have the D-G of Health change the employment conditions of some or all doctors and force doctors to work under reduced conditions for 6 months.

Government claim: The contracts ensure doctors can no longer be transferred anywhere in the State without consultation, as is presently the case.

  • As Assistant Minister Chris Davis well knows from his time as a senior clinical and medical administrator at the Prince Charles Hospital, this is not currently the case.
  • Doctors are expected to be able to work in a district and some travel may be required and compensation paid for this. Any change that affects an employee requires consultation.
  • Organisation change that requires transfer of employees to other locations is considered to be significant change requiring significant consultation (although the Government has removed some requirements for consultation through legislation).
  • Other transfers for operational reasons must not proceed if the doctor establishes reasonable grounds to refuse the transfer. The refusal must not be used to prejudice the officer’s prospects for future promotion or advancement. Unreasonable distance is a well-established valid ground for refusal across all government employment sectors.
  • Under the proposed contract the HHS can tell a doctor that they will accept a transfer or be terminated. Further, the contracts would allow the capacity for doctors to be forced in to working shifts and potentially transferred to their non-usual work location with no extra compensation or consultation.

Government claim: The contracts provide unlimited damages for unfair dismissal through the Supreme Court instead of the current maximum six months’ salary through the QIRC

  • This is untrue and particularly dangerous misrepresentation of the law by the Health Minister.
  • There is no available cause of action under the common law for wrongful termination where there is a defined notice period in the contract (such as the contract the Government has proposed).
  • The only available cause of action is for breach of the implied term of mutual trust and confidence which precludes damages for termination, or events leading to the termination. There is no common law remedy which provides for reinstatement.  There is no “unlimited damages for unfair dismissal in the Supreme Court” – this is a lie perpetrated the Government.
  • The Government has passed legislation removing the capacity for senior doctors to access the tribunal system which resolves these concerns and disputes swiftly, efficiently and as a no cost jurisdiction. Any claims that are made about breach of the contract or any other industrial issue must now be made (and defended by the State) in the Supreme Court at considerable additional cost to doctors and to the taxpayer. This is money better spent on patients.

Government claim: The contracts allow senior doctors to directly engage and negotiate with their actual employer – the local Hospital and Health Services [and Board], instead of a centralised Brisbane bureaucracy under the failed current system

This is also untrue.

  • The contract proposed is a standard form contract that has been developed by the centralised bureaucracy of the Chief HR Officer and her office in Charlotte Street and imposed on doctors and HHS CEOs and Boards by the D-G of Health acting under the instruction of the Minister for Health.
  • The Health Employment Directive prohibits the HHS departing from the framework document and only remuneration, hours, duties and PPA (to a limited degree) are in fact negotiable.
  • The D-G and the centralised bureaucracy can override anything agreed at the HHS level at any time; however the employer and the employee cannot vary the contract terms without D-G approval.
  • These contracts put more power in the hands of the bureaucrats responsible for the health bungles and crises of the recent past and less in the hands of experienced clinicians.

Government claim: Importantly, any variation in the terms of the perpetual contracts are subject to clinician involvement through an advisory committee including the AMAQ President of the day.

  • There is no contractual, legislative or other authority providing for this advisory council to exist or for any changes to be subject to it.
  • The AMA, AMAQ, ASMOF, ASMOFQ and Together as well as many other professional bodies and associations representing doctors in Queensland and internationally have expressed serious concerns about the patient safety impacts of these contracts and asked the D-G to reconsider. The D-G (under the instruction of the Minister and Assistant Minister) have refused to do so. Why would Queensland doctors expect differently from the D-G in the future?
  • Every single clinician has had the right to involvement in the development of their conditions of employment and the impacts on their patients through their industrial representatives and by voting on their collective agreement. Under the new model imposed by your government conditions of employment are set unilaterally by the D-G of health acting on the instructions of the Minister.
  • Clinicians oppose the contract you are imposing.

Government claim: The Minister has been able to satisfy all of his commitment to ensuring fair remuneration for our doctors and patient safety are not only addressed, but vastly improved under the new model.

  • The  Minister has failed to satisfy the doctors of Queensland who continue to decry these contracts as unfair, unreasonable and bad for patients.