4 Jul 2009

Senior doctors told not to expect Australian pay rate

3:28 pm on 4 July 2009

The Government has told senior doctors they should not expect to be paid the same as their Australian counterparts despite claims the workforce in New Zealand is in crisis.

A report says senior doctors in New Zealand earn roughly a third less than they do across the Tasman and that frustrations in the workplace may play a key role in the decision of many to leave.

The doctors say they are aiming for constructive talks with the Government, but are adamant they expect a pay rise regardless of a strong warning to the state sector to expect nothing over the next 12 months.

But Health Minister Tony Ryall says senior doctors should not expect to be paid the same as their counterparts across the Tasman.

Mr Ryall told Checkpoint on Friday that district health boards have tight budgets at the moment, and at a time when so many people are losing their jobs, it is important that public service workers play their part and accept financial restraint.

Executive director of the Association of Salaried Medical Specialists Ian Powell says the workforce in New Zealand is in crisis and the pay gap is driving senior doctors to Australia.

"Doctors are expecting a pay increase - what it might be remains to be seen," he says.

"We have a crisis. We have a Government that acknowledges the existence of a crisis and we hope that we can have some constructive engagement about how that might be addressed."

Report recommendations

The report from the Senior Medical Officers Workforce Commission says there is roughly a 30% to 35% pay gap between senior doctors in New Zealand and in Australia, but that other factors in their decision to leave the country may be just as important.

The commission urges employers to address workplace frustrations over issues such as space, equipment, tools and the other support doctors believe they need to do the job.

It also urges the Government to address fragmentation in the health system and calls for better conditions for foreign trained doctors in New Zealand. The report found a 10% vacancy rate among senior doctors.

The commission was set up by the previous Labour government last year to investigate recruitment and retention of senior doctors following a pay row that almost ended in their first ever strike.

Mr Ryall says the National Government accepts the recommendations and they are being implemented. A progress report will be presented in December.