Deal close on holiday payouts for doctors

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 06 June, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 06 June, 2006, 12:00am

Final agreement expected to be reached on Friday may cost the government more than $400m

The Hospital Authority has reached a preliminary agreement with frontline doctors over compensation for working on statutory holidays and rest days, in a package that may cost the government more than $400 million.

An authority source said the payouts would be issued 'as soon as possible' once a final agreement is reached and funding approved by the government.

But the source added that it would be too complicated to compensate doctors on their individual working hours as it would involve too many calculations and the tracking down of individual records.

According to Public Doctors' Association president Paul Shea Tat-ming, the two sides are expected to close a deal on Friday.

The association, the largest union representing public doctors, estimates the total amount of compensation will 'definitely' exceed $400 million, a figure higher than the authority's previous estimate.

A total of 165 doctors had earlier sued the authority seeking payment for overtime and work on rest days and public holidays.

The High Court ruled in March that while the doctors could claim compensation for working on rest days and statutory holidays, they could not expect compensation for overtime.

According to the association's latest analysis, the authority owes each doctor an average of 180 statutory and rest days between January 2000 and last December.

The 4,500 public doctors are currently split into three groups: one receiving no overtime allowances, one receiving a flat rate of $1,750 a month, and another $3,500 a month.

Under the preliminary agreement, doctors with fixed hours, such as those working in outpatient clinics and accident and emergency departments, will not be eligible for compensation. The other two groups will be offered different packages depending on the amount of their current overtime allowances and their years of service, according to the authority source and Dr Shea.

Junior doctors will get more compensation than senior and consultant doctors under the proposed flat-rate payout package.

Dr Shea said the remaining outstanding argument was about the number of extra working hours on doctors' rest days.

'The authority now only considers that most doctors work one to two hours on their rest days, but in fact, many doctors work four to eight hours.'

In an open letter to doctors dated May 26, the authority's director of professional services and operations Allen Cheung Wai-lun said the two sides agreed on the need for a timely settlement. He said they also wanted to adopt a simple model adapted from the fixed-rate honorarium scheme introduced in 1989 to 'apportion the recompense so as to avoid too much differentiation, while maintaining fairness'.