The Union is no stranger to negotiating new Enterprise Agreements with private pathology providers operating across Victoria.
As private pathology has consolidated in Victoria there is a clear pattern emerging of how private pathology negotiates new Enterprise Agreements.
Rather than seeking to keep up with the higher wages and conditions standards in Public Health, it always seems to be about what they can get away with through new measures to contain costs and this leads to a race to the bottom.
It is a tedious element of negotiating new Enterprise Agreements listening to how the company cannot possibly afford any kind of increase in pay or allowances or do anything about conditions or career pathways.
With the onset, and ongoing, COVID-19 pandemic, private pathology providers have made record profits offering PCR tests once they worked out how to maximise returns by processing multiple samples simultaneously. After their failure to share these windfall profits with their employees, it is difficult but not surprising to hear them bang on that they cannot afford modest increases in pay and improvements in conditions.
Members working in private pathology have seen workloads explode while pay and conditions have languished. It is no surprise that members working in private pathology are reporting more workplace stress from excessive workloads, and concerns about the growing number of unfilled positions.
It’s little wonder then that private pathology providers experience problems with staff turnover, and difficulties in filling vacant positions with few incentives and little prospect of developing careers as they often refuse to consider improvements in conditions that would ease workloads or offer career pathways; key reasons for many private pathology providers having high staff turnover rates.
There is little attempt by private pathology providers to offer better pay and conditions. As we see it, they are more focussed trying to cut them for the very workforce that continues to deliver them record profits, take over each other’s businesses and negotiate large salary packages for senior management.
In fact, private pathology providers actively reject proposals to provide career pathways as successive providers have sought to limit and/or cut access to allowances like Higher Qualifications in recognition of your ongoing pursuit of knowledge along with steadfastly refusing to entertain Grade 1 to Grade 2 progression in line with pathology best practice.
Instead of trying to be market leaders, employers of choice and provide best quality care, it is striking to us how hard they work to be the cheapest.
The Union holds significant concerns about the business priorities and practices of private pathology providers with respect to its scientific workforce, and operation within public hospitals. This is reflected by their operating model in hospital pathology laboratories; offering lower pay and worse conditions than the scientific workforce working in other parts of a public hospital.
We’ve not seen turnaround times significantly improved as promised by private pathology providers, and there are ongoing concerns about patients getting their test results in a timely fashion, especially for those patients in regional and rural Victoria.
The massive workloads and difficult expectations to do more with fewer colleagues is not helped by the race to the bottom on pay and conditions.
The Union is of the belief that there is little to no material benefit to patients or scientists or technicians to have private pathology providers operating public pathology laboratories given their work practices and attacks on the scientific workforces once they have secured Public Health contracts. This is why the Union has long advocated and lobbied for the return of public pathology laboratories in public hospitals – to give patients better care and scientists and technicians better jobs.
We don’t say that there is no place for private pathology providers, but we do say they have no place within our public hospitals.
Returning public pathology laboratories to public hospitals means the scientific workforce will be employed under the Public Health Enterprise Agreement with better pay and conditions that includes mechanisms to address matters like workloads.
In reality, when labs have returned to public hands, staffing levels have generally increased significantly.
It is the Union’s belief that public hospitals will always be better off with public pathology laboratories and we will continue to work to ensure public pathology laboratories are restored in public hospitals.