Senior doctors oppose Bill

The senior doctors' union is opposing proposed labour law changes it fears could create a more fractious industrial relations environment.

Association of Salaried Medical Specialists executive director Ian Powell told the Otago Daily Times the union was opposed to the changes in the Employment Relations Amendment Bill, which passed its first reading last month. Submissions on the Bill closed this week.

''The overall trend of this [Bill] is to a more adversarial style ... which we think will be counter-productive,'' Mr Powell said.

Removing an obligation to conclude negotiations was a ''major concern''. Because of doctors' position in health boards, the provision was likely to affect other DHB workers more. However, not all senior doctors were DHB-employed. A more ''disparate'' group, employed by non-DHB organisations, was ''more vulnerable''.

The union opposed an opt-out provision to multi-employer collective agreements (Mecas), because Mecas made particular sense for the health sector. If a group of health boards, or one in ''splendid isolation'', opted out of a Meca, it could spark a ''bit of an industrial bonfire''.

Mecas ensured the right to speak out about patient safety, helping maintain professional standards, and a quality health system. They were not just about ''pay and rations''.

He was also concerned about the removal of the automatic transfer of union terms and conditions for new workers in their first 30 days, because many doctors were international medical graduates and did not know the New Zealand system.

It depended on how the individual employer interpreted the law. The quality of health leadership in New Zealand was ''quite variable'', and there were some people who ''don't actually get it'', in terms of the importance of collaboration and co-operation, he said. There was a risk health could become more ''contractual'', which discouraged workers from going the ''extra mile''.

District health boards' employment relations strategy group chairman Graham Dyer said he did not envisage DHBs would opt out of multi-employer agreements, and he did not think the changes would have much effect on the DHB sector.

''I'd be surprised if DHBs would move away from Mecas. It's an efficient way of negotiating. It gets consistency across the country.''

He would be ''very surprised'' if new doctors were offered lesser terms and conditions in their first 30 days at work.

Industrial relations between boards and doctors had been ''extremely good'' in recent years, which DHBs were keen to maintain, he said.

Mr Dyer said he could not comment on health employers outside the DHB sector.


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