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RAH admits years of breaching doctors' conditions

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The Royal Adelaide Hospital has admitted it knowingly rostered doctors in breach of health, safety and welfare standards.

The General Medical rosters for the Medical Practitioners Group at the RAH had failed to meet restrictions of excessive hours of duty, the RAH’s Head of General Medicine, Dr Jeff Faunt, has told the Industrial Relations Court.

The breaches included failures to provide four days free from duty in each 28 day cycle, failures to provide one weekend free of duty in each 28 day cycle, and requiring employees to work in excess of eight consecutive days.

The breaches had gone on for several years and reflected a lack of resources, Faunt admitted.

The South Australian Salaried Medical Officers Association (SASMOA) became aware of the problem in August and sought orders from the IR Court under the Fair Work Act that the RAH fix the rosters.

SASMOA’s chief industrial officer Andrew Murray told InDaily the decision is a “warning to the whole of the Health Department that this widespread practice of excessive working hours won’t be tolerated”.

“These rosters are legally encoded to rein in the abuse of excessive hours; we’d suspected that the principle of non-compliance had been widespread across Health,” he said.

“We decided to make an issue of this case and seek court orders as an means of telling Health that such breaches would be a contempt of court.”

SA Health said it was now complying with the roster requirements.

“The rosters were made compliant in September, and measures have been put in place to ensure unit managers are aware of the their obligations under the EA,” a spokesman said.

In his summary of the case this week, District Court Judge Peter Hannon said that when questioned about the non-compliance, Faust “said that rosters in that form had been consistent over a number of years that is, non-compliant for a number of years”.

“Moreover, he said that he and others responsible for preparing the GM rosters over this period ‘… were somewhat stymied to do anything about it, but we were aware of it … we were backed into a corner …’.

“In this case it is clear from the concessions of Dr Faunt that the department knew for at least three years preceding the issuing of the proceedings that the GM rosters were not compliant with the agreement or its predecessors,” Hannon said.

“I accept that Dr Faunt and those working with him did the best they could in terms of compliance with the enterprise agreements in place at the time rosters were prepared and implemented, and that they felt constrained by the limited resources available to them.

“… it is clear that the department engaged in a course of conduct with respect to its rostering arrangements which it knew was in breach of the agreement and that it did so over a prolonged period.

“I also observe that the breaches were substantial in nature given that it must be accepted that the constraints on rostered hours imposed by the agreement were an agreed compromise having regard to the department’s obligation to adequately service the health needs of the community whilst ensuring the health, safety and welfare of its employees.

“The department’s industrial obligations should not have been sacrificed to the exigencies of the situation. In so saying I do not suggest that there was evidence of any specific adverse impact on the health, safety and welfare of any one or more affected employees as a result of the breaches in question but nevertheless the breaches are not insignificant.”

In his conclusion, Hannon said it is essential that awards and enterprise agreements are observed.

“The breaches in question were not of recent origin. They were committed knowingly.

“In the circumstances I consider it appropriate to make an order under s 15(1)(b) of the Act.”

SASMOA opted not to pursue penalties against the RAH, satisfied that the rostering issues had now been resolved.

The GM roster covered 36 employees, 12 each in Medical Unit 1, Medical Unit 2 and Medical Unit 3.

The employees comprised 18 Registrars/Medical Practitioners and 18 interns.

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