- On July 14, 2020
- July / August 2020
DITs Fight the Wage Freeze
While many are doing it tough, NSW DITs already face some of the poorest working conditions in the country, writes DITC Co-Chair, Dr James Lawler.
THIS YEAR I had decided to start working part-time so I could spend more time with my two-year-old daughter and to support my partner, a new intern doctor. As the COVID pandemic developed, the need for more doctors became apparent, so I went back to work.
Throughout the pandemic, junior doctors turned up to work despite
the risks. Many were reallocated to “COVID wards” where they worked a 12-hour rotating roster. All leave was cancelled. Some, like my wife, were stationed in the emergency department despite the uncertainty about the risk of asymptomatic transmission in undifferentiated patients. Most have had their training programs disrupted or delayed indefinitely as they move to other roles. But there was no question that they would be at work to help patients in a crisis. We just want to do what we are trained to do – come to work and help the sick and needy.
Now the NSW Government is set to cut the wages of healthcare workers across the state; a slap in the face to all of us.
Since 2011, the NSW Government has restricted wages growth to 2.5% for all public sector workers. I know of several junior doctors who have left NSW for better conditions interstate. It isn’t about the salary per se (although NSW’s is amongst the lowest in the country), but the decades old Junior Medical Officer award we work under. Working as a psychiatry registrar I know of colleagues with the same experience doing the same job as me in other states being paid double my wage. Our archaic on-call system means some registrars take calls all night about patients in our hospitals and are paid $16.30 in total (before tax), before returning to work. This was the state of our work before the pandemic. Despite the wages cap, the work of the healthcare system has become far greater. There has been more than a 40% increase in patients presenting to NSW emergency departments over the past decade. AMA (NSW) has repeatedly been sounding the alarm about our overstretched healthcare system – this was all before the pandemic.
We are fortunate to have avoided the devastation in other countries due to coronavirus for now; however, we increased the capacity in our healthcare system by restricting other parts of our healthcare system even further, for example by postponing non-urgent surgeries. As we “snap back” to our previous overburdened healthcare system, we are going to need to now also account for the impact of restrictions in other urgent medical services, an increasing backlog of surgeries and procedures, interruptions in the care of chronic medical conditions and the toll on the mental health of patients. With or without a pandemic, there is now more work to do than ever before.
The NSW Government’s plan to cut our wages, after years of stretching our healthcare system beyond its limits will be the last straw for some – I suspect more junior doctors will look interstate in years to come. Good governments around the world will have learned that now is the time to invest in our healthcare system and the workers it relies on, not to cut their wages.
AMA (NSW) has been supporting this campaign against the wage freeze on social media. Please link and share our wage freeze campaign #YourCareIsWorthMore