Hospitals tackle overtime cost fears

PUBLISHED : Monday, 11 January, 1999, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 11 January, 1999, 12:00am

Hospital doctors could be asked to sign away rights to paid overtime in a plan to be discussed today.

Hospital Authority officials will discuss whether to specify that on-call duties and related compensation should be reflected in doctors' salaries.

The proposal comes after a prison officer won a court case last year claiming for 1,645 hours of overtime.

That led to 4,000 of his 6,600 Correctional Services Department colleagues considering suing for 'overnight on-call' payments of up to $2 billion.

Public doctors said the Hospital Authority plan was 'slamming the door in the face of any potential lawsuit'. They estimated the body could face bankruptcy if doctors mounted a similar legal challenge.

Authority employees have set numbers of hours for the normal working week, with doctors on duty for 44 hours, including lunch breaks.

But a recent survey showed medical officers in many specialties worked an average 80 hours a week, with some exceeding 90 hours, and most of this could be considered overtime.

The authority has sought legal advice on whether the present honorarium - a monthly fixed rate of either $1,750 or $3,500 paid to those taking up 'on-call' duties - is compensation for all overtime work. The rate has not been adjusted since 1989.

'To avoid misunderstanding and possible future arguments, it is recommended that the requirement for on-call duties and the compensation arrangements be specifically spelt out in the appointment letter of medical staff,' today's paper for the human resources committee says.

'It is further recommended that the subject be included in the overall review of the grade and ranking structure of medical staff which is being considered.' Countries such as Australia pay double to doctors taking overnight 'on-call' duties, a Public Doctors Association spokesman said.

A surgeon with medical officer rank who does seven on-call duties each of 34 hours on top of his monthly workload, said the current system was unfair.

'I am not sure whether the compensation for overtime is included in my employment contract because there is no clear definition for 'overtime',' he said.

'If we calculated our overtime payments it would be an astronomical amount which would send the authority into bankruptcy.'