Industrial Relations: who looks after you?
By Professor Geoffrey Dobb, President ASMOF, Dr Roderick McRae, AMA Federal Councillor for Public Hospital Doctors and Deputy Secretary/Treasurer ASMOF and Dr Tony Sara, Vice-President ASMOF
The government-engendered doctors’ dispute in Queensland and the distasteful ongoing junior doctor dispute in England demonstrate why there is a need for an organised response by our profession to unreasonable attacks on doctors’ terms and conditions of employment.
This is especially important when governments are unwilling to engage in meaningful negotiations.
One of the benefits of being an AMA is the representation it provides for doctors who are salaried employees in hospitals and other organisations.
The industrial relations scene is constantly changing across all Australian jurisdictions. Federally, the ‘rules of the game’ are now being set by Fair Work Australia.
One of the constants has been the Australian Salaried Medical Officers Federation, which on 22 May will mark its 25th year in operation.
As long ago as 1977 the AMA adopted a policy that industrial representation of medical practitioners should occur through organisations consisting solely of medical practitioners, rather than conglomerate unions that include non-medical members.
Most industrial representation occurs at the State and Territory level with State and Territory employers, though the model varies around the country.
In Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria, Tasmania, and the Northern Territory there is a conjoint arrangement between the AMA and ASMOF, while in Western Australia the AMA alone has coverage, and in South Australia and the ACT ASMOF acts as a stand-alone union.
The stimulus to form a national organisation to represent the interests of doctors in the Federal jurisdiction came from a ruling of the High Court of Australia which struck out the view that employees in certain occupations, including salaried doctors, could not be parties to industrial disputes falling within the jurisdiction of Federal industrial tribunals.
The AMA President and Federal Council of the day recognised the importance of the decision and the opportunity it and, after extensive discussions with the State and Territory entities representing salaried doctors, ASMOF was formed on 16 December 1984. An application for recognition under the then relevant Conciliation and Arbitration Act was then lodged on 23 January 1985.
The application was strongly opposed by a number of large (non-medical) trade unions, so it took until 1991 for ASMOF to receive registration. This came after protracted negotiation and a successful outcome to litigation.
The first ASMOF President was the late South Australian orthopaedic surgeon Dr Lloyd Coates, who was also for many years the Salaried Doctors representative on Federal Council.
An article, ‘ASMOF Heralds New Era for Industrial Relations’, appeared in Australian Medicine on 2 September 1991.
It provided the historical context for ASMOF’s first Federal Council meeting, and a picture of Council members appeared on the front cover. The final paragraph of the report of the meeting remains as relevant today as it was then:
“The AMA, together with its various state branches and the medical unions, is cooperating with ASMOF in developing conjoint membership arrangements. These arrangements are seen not only as an essential vehicle for the recruitment tasks faced by the new organisation, but also as an expression of mutual commitment to united and coordinated representation of the medical profession by its members”.
The conjoint arrangements still exist with the Federal AMA and most States and Territories. The arrangements are currently under their regular periodic review for renewal.
Over the last 25 years there have been many twists and turns in the industrial relations landscape, and who knows what more will come over the next five, 10 or 25 years?
ASMOF remains an essential part of the representation of salaried doctors, working with the AMA and the state organisations to ensure that terms and conditions of employment are well looked after – essential for peace of mind, and more than repaying the cost of AMA membership, which in most States includes conjoint ASMOF membership.
Published: 17 May 2016