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Doctors win ‘landmark’ $230m payout

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Junior doctors in NSW will share in a $230m settlement over underpayment. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Damian Shaw

Junior doctors who worked in NSW will collectively receive almost $230m from the state’s public health system after an agreement was reached to end a four-year legal battle.

On Wednesday, it was revealed NSW Health had agreed to pay $229.8 million to resolve a class action brought by junior doctors employed between December 2014 and March this year.

The result is being heralded as the largest underpayment settlement in Australia’s legal history according to Maurice Blackburn lawyers, who represented the doctors.

“Over 20,000 junior doctors across NSW are potentially eligible to participate in the settlement,” the law firm said.

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“We call on junior doctors to register through Maurice Blackburn to claim their share”.

Dr Amireh Fakhouri said the class action was brought to recognise the real hours junior doctors worked. Picture: Supplied.
Dr Amireh Fakhouri said the class action was brought to recognise the real hours junior doctors worked. Picture: Supplied.

The NSW Supreme Court still needs to approve the payout in a court hearing later this year.

Lead plaintiff Amireh Fakhouri, who worked for the department between 2015 and 2018, said she believed a “cultural change” was beginning to occur for the next generation of doctors.

“This was not about us asking for more money; it was simply about us being paid for the actual hours that we work,” Dr Fakhouri said.

“Our purpose in bringing this was to ensure junior doctors’ work was properly recognised.”

The class action alleged junior doctors were expected to perform regular unpaid and unrecorded overtime.

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The settlement will need to be approved in the NSW Supreme Court. Picture: NCA NewsWire/Bianca De Marchi

Maurice Blackburn principal Rebecca Gilsenan said her clients had reported NSW Health was already beginning to implement improvements, saying the “landmark” legal action had achieved a lasting change.

“Underpayment of junior doctors across NSW hospitals has been a systemic problem for a long time,” she said.

“In that way, the class action has achieved lasting systemic change for some of the hardest workers in our health system.”

Lawyer Hayden Stephens said the health system had failed to recognise the actual working hours for doctors for years, creating dangerous working conditions.

“Any workplace that is strictly hierarchical can lead to a culture of silence among those who are most junior,” he said.

“Dr Fakhouri showed enormous courage in speaking up. She received support from many colleagues including senior doctors who knew junior doctors were not being treated fairly and were suffering from burnout.”