Junior doctors denied choice of NSW union
PATIENTS could be dying in NSW hospitals because of the state’s rigid industrial system, according to junior doctors who say their voices are not being heard on issues such as fatigue and under-staffing.
Registered medical officers in NSW hospitals, along with salaried dentists, were told in April they must remain with the Health Services Union, rather than switch to the Australian Salaried Medical Officers’ Federation, which represents them in the other states but is only allowed to cover senior doctors in NSW.
The HSU represents hospital cleaners and caterers, along with paramedics and allied health professionals.
Junior doctors, who have been reluctant to join the HSU, now say a climate of fear, exacerbated by their industrial underrepresentation, is preventing them from speaking out on patient safety issues.
And they claim the HSU is punishing them for having tried to leave.
Nada Hamad, president of the NSW association of RMOs, said yesterday, We decided to try and break free of the HSU because we felt they were an ineffective union. We were aiming to get a union that would allow us to have a stronger voice and promote our concerns about patient safety.’’
She said the dual role of junior doctors in hospitals — as workers and trainees — made it doubly intimidating to speak out individually.
After an initial hearing before the NSW Industrial Relations Commission, the dispute between the HSU and the ASMOF was referred to arbitration by John Macbean, a retired judge from the federal industrial court.
Macbean ruled against ASMOF extending its coverage because the HSU qualifies — under NSW industrial laws designed to prevent demarcation disputes — as an existing union to which the relevant employees might conveniently belong’’.
The decision came despite the fact only around a tenth of RMOs in NSW belong to the HSU, compared to around half in the ASMOF in other states. While there are around 400 RMOs and 51 dentists in the HSU, 1260 RMOs and 92 dentists told Mr Macbean they would join ASMOF.
However, Macbean dismissed their preference as not of significant weight’’.
Whether or not ASMOF (NSW) is better able to advance the industrial interests of RMOs and dentists is not the issue,’’ he said.
The issue is whether the HSU is the union to which RMOs and dentists can conveniently belong.’’
Hamad claims there is now a perception within the HSU that junior doctors are an
adversary’’, because they tried to switch to ASMOF. I’ve tried to create meetings to improve the situation but it’s difficult to work with the HSU.’’
Natalie Bradbury, from the HSU, said RMOs were better off out of the union that represents their medical superiors, and that the HSU now has a full-time officer looking after their interests.
This argument has been heard and resolved,’’ she said. ‘‘ We think it’s counterproductive to continue with these disputes on demarcations.’’
She dismissed a view among doctors that the HSU was a union for blue-collar workers as verging on professional snobbery’’.
NSW Industrial Relations Minister John Della Bosca said the Government believes the current arrangements have worked well and avoid potential disruption in a critical area of service delivery’’.
He said the so-called conveniently belong’’ rule is common in NSW (and federally) to prevent the demarcation disputes that were common 20 or 30 years ago.’’
A spokesman for ASMOF in NSW said the union had agreed to abide by the decision of the independent arbitrator, and would do so.