Junior doctors in Victoria are launching legal action against what they claim is systemic and widespread underpayment for overtime.
A claim has been filed against Peninsula Health in the Federal Court, and lawyers say more will follow unless a resolution can be reached with the Victorian government and public health services concerned.
About 10,500 junior doctors claim they are entitled to be paid for overtime worked over the last six years.
One of the doctors, Karla Villafana-Soto, said the legal action was a wakeup call, and tired and underpaid doctors should not be relied upon to prop up a broken system.
“Unfortunately, excessive workloads and poor staffing by health services have resulted in junior doctors having to pick up the slack to ensure proper patient care,” she said.
Junior doctors were working, on average, 16 hours of overtime a week and some worked up to an extra 25 hours a week, according to a 2020 Victorian “hospital health” survey by the Australian Medical Association.
It also found more than 50 per cent of workers reported ongoing enterprise agreement breaches at their health service.
Just over 30 per cent had been bullied and nearly half witnessed someone being bullied.
Nearly 60 per cent of young doctors feared reprisals and negative career consequences if they spoke up about “unacceptable behaviours”.
The Victorian branch of the Australian Salaried Medical Officers Federation, which is part of the legal action, said crippling fatigue placed patients at risk.
“Our junior doctors are crying out for help. Fundamentally this is a systemic failing across our health system. Unpaid labour is ingrained into the business model and it must stop,” branch president Roderick McRae said.
The legal action is being led by Gordon Legal, and Hayden Stephens and Associates.
It’s seeking the recovery of wages, as well as penalties against Peninsula Health for breaches of enterprise agreements and the Fair Work Act.
Peninsula Health said it respected the rights of all staff, including the receipt of any payments to which they were entitled.
“Our junior doctors are the future of our organisation and we acknowledge the important contribution they make across all our hospitals and healthcare sites,” its chief medical officer Shyaman Menon said.
Australian Associated Press