Legislative Council: Thursday, October 20, 2022


Medical Specialists, Enterprise Bargaining

The Hon. C. BONAROS (15:07): I seek leave to make a brief explanation before asking the Minister for Industrial Relations a question about enterprise bargaining negotiations.

Leave granted.

The Hon. C. BONAROS: Our hardworking and dedicated public health visiting medical specialists, the very same specialists who joined the public sector on the frontline of our public health service when COVID hit, have said they feel abandoned by the state government. They believe they are the victims of payback by the government for not being as vocal as the very vocal and prominent nurses' union or ambulance union during the state election earlier this year.

Why else, they argue, would they be offered a paltry 1.5 per cent pay offer over three years as part of their current enterprise bargaining negotiations with the government? Compare that to the nurses, who have just won a deal including annual 3 per cent increases, two $1,500 cash payments, $2.50 daily car parking and free public transport, and the ambulance officers, who were granted an annual pay increase of 2.5 per cent backdated to the expiry of the last enterprise agreement in 2018. For the record, those frontline troops very much deserve every penny they get.

As the SA Salaried Medical Officers Association's chief industrial officer, Bernadette Mulholland, tells me, the current visiting medical specialist enterprise agreement expired 15 months ago and the new offer is 1.5 per cent over three years. She and her members believe that is an insulting pay offer and sends a very clear message from the government that unions that run ads telling people how to vote are well paid while unions that merely advocate for members and their public are not. My questions to the minister are:

1. Why is the state government treating our highly valued and in demand public health system's visiting medical specialists as lesser employees?

2. What do you say to these dedicated medical specialists who believe that the offer is an insult and shows the government does not value or respect them as much as other public health professionals?

3. Do you believe such offers are counterproductive to retaining or recruiting medical staff, especially given the staff shortages that currently exist across our health system?

The Hon. K.J. MAHER (Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Attorney-General, Minister for Industrial Relations and Public Sector) (15:09): I thank the honourable member for her question. Firstly, what I would say to those who work on the frontline is: thank you for your services, particularly during the COVID era, when frontline health professionals were some of the heroes of the Australian workforce.

In terms of enterprise bargaining and offers that are being made, I will take a tiny bit of time to inform the honourable member and the chamber of traditionally how the enterprise bargaining negotiations with salaried medical officers, clinical academics and also visiting medical specialists have generally worked in South Australia. For many years, and certainly both former Liberal and former Labor governments, there has been a nexus between what is negotiated for salaried medical officers that is then flowed on to the two other groups: clinical academics and visiting medical specialists.

Earlier this year, I think it was February, the negotiations with salaried medical officers were concluded. That covers almost 4½ thousand salaried medical officers in our public hospitals around South Australia. Earlier this year, what was agreed to by the union and what was ratified was 1.5 per cent a year over three years.

As I have said, what has happened for many years under both Liberal and Labor governments is that the same conclusion that is reached with those 4,461 (that is the latest figure I have) salaried medical officers is flowed on to those other two cohorts: clinical academics—I am informed there are around 59 in headcount of clinical academics in our system in South Australia—and visiting medical specialists—I am told their headcount is 216, although that equates to only about 32 FTEs because many do it on a few hours a week basis.

It is absolutely consistent with what has happened for many years under both Labor and Liberal governments. The government has offered to flow on what was negotiated, reached and ratified earlier this year with the 4½ thousand salaried medical officers to those other two cohorts—that is, the few dozen FTEs in clinical academics and visiting medical specialists—of that 1½ per cent.

I can understand the rhetoric that the union uses. Unions, I understand, have a role to play and a job to do in advocating for their members, but it is the case that, for many years, the salaries and outcomes that have been reached for what is now about 4½ thousand salaried medical officers have been flowed on to those other two cohorts. That is exactly what we are doing, as governments of both persuasions and stripes have done in the past in South Australia.