Queensland doctor dispute goes federal

By Julian Bajkowski

The industrial relations row over moves by the Queensland government to force the state’s doctors onto individual workplace contracts has escalated to a national level after the Australian Medical Association’s (AMA) Federal Council formally condemned the move as draconian and unfair.

The entry of the AMA’s national arm into the dispute is a significant escalation in hostilities in the already heated battle because it sends a clear message to other states that similar moves will also encounter stiff resistance.

Doctors have labelled Queensland’s attempt to shift senior doctors in public hospitals onto individual contracts as the equivalent of Work Choices by stealth, an accusation made more potent by the fact that the AMA has had a long tradition of producing successful Liberal Party candidates and ministers.

The AMA’s Federal Council claims the new contracts will have “a dramatic negative effect on medical workforce numbers and patient access to care in Queensland” and is warning that “the changes could force doctors to move interstate or into private practice.”

Senior Medical Officers in Queensland are at present covered by an enterprise agreement with Queensland Health.

The AMA’s Federal President, Dr Steve Hambleton, said that previous negotiations had “helped to significantly lift the number of public hospital doctors in Queensland and have improved access to care for patients.”

“The proposed new individual contracts will strip away key employment rights and undermine the progress Queensland has made in growing its public sector medical workforce,” Dr Hambleton said.

“These draconian contracts will remove key protections such as fatigue provisions and rest breaks, limits on hours, access to unfair dismissal, dispute resolution, and grievance procedures.”

Despite the repeated warnings from the doctors, the Newman government is sticking firm to its position that the new contracts will come in from 1 July 2014.

While there has been no conspicuous talk of industrial action to resist the changes, the Federal Council’s condemnation is the strongest indicator yet that doctors are prepared to close ranks over the issue and take action if required.

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