Continuing the fight for our award-free status

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This is the DHAA response to ADOHTA Industrial Relations Update that was published 27 May, 2017

The DHAA notes that ADOHTA recently communicated with its membership regarding their position on seeking Oral Health Therapists on the Health Professional and Support Services Award. This communication made a number of false statements about the DHAA and presented various inaccuracies about the issue at hand. The DHAA has asked ADOHTA to retract these false statements, however they have declined.

The DHAA would like to provide clarity and honesty on this issue, and as such the DHAA Board, in conjunction with our Industrial Relations Consultant, has provided a point-by-point response to the claims made. (Note: The original statement from ADOHTA is in bold italic text.)

“ADOHTA recognises there is significant anxiety in regards to DHAA’s recent statement on the Health Professionals and Support Services Award 2010 review.

We can reassure you that the good work ADOHTA does for the profession at large that is inclusive of dental hygienists, dental therapists and oral health therapists will continue. ADOHTA has worked for over 40 years for the benefit of our members and seen many improvements in pay, employment conditions, respect for our professions and professional autonomy. We acknowledge that there are always alternative views on an issue and we encourage critical thought about all the issues that face us. Our professional association does not provide legal advice. Therefore, we recommend our members that while we will work for the collective good of the profession, it important to understand how industrial relations apply to our individual circumstances.

Contrary to the statements made, ADOHTA and the DHAA were working together on the Award in 2009.”


DHAA: This is false. ADOHTA and DHAA had a common position of opposing the award as the terms of the award were highly unfavourable to dental therapists, dental hygienists and oral health therapists. In 2009, at the DHAA President’s request, our Industrial Relations Consultant telephoned Julie Barker (ADOHTA) to attempt to ensure that the approaches of the two organisations were not in conflict. Our Industrial Relations Consultant told Ms. Barker that DHAA would be making a formal submission to AIRC to vary the award with supporting evidence.

Ms. Barker said that there was no need for ADOHTA to do this as ADOHTA had already sent “a letter” to Brendan Hower, from the AMOD team of the Australian Industrial Relations Commission, to state that ADOHTA wishes dental therapists to be award free. She was not collegial in her interactions with the DHAA.

Our Industrial Relations Consultant told Ms. Barker that a letter would not suffice to achieve this and that ADOHTA needed to make a formal submission as dental therapists were already on the list of common health professionals and a formal award variation application was mandatory to seek to have them removed. Ms. Barker said that ADOHTA had its own advisors who had told them what was required and shut the discussion down.

Our Industrial Relations Consultant subsequently confirmed with Brendan Hower, from AMOD, that ADOHTA had sent a letter to AIRC seeking to remove dental therapists from the list of common health professionals in the award, and that they had not submitted a formal submission, as required.


“However, the DHAA withdrew from this work at the last moment.”


DHAA: Preparation of the submission to Australian Industrial Relations Commission took five to six months to complete as it included survey work. Nothing was done “at the last minute” and nothing was withdrawn from at the last minute. The position was always to retain award free status. This had been decided on at DHAA National Council at the beginning of 2009. The position never altered in the subsequent months.

“Dental therapists have since then been included on the list of health professionals in the Award.”


DHAA: ADOHTA tried and failed to have dental therapists taken off the list of common health professionals because they did not bother to find out how to do it properly, nor bother to listen to our Industrial Relations Consultant. DHAA succeeded in having dental hygienists removed.

“For over 7 YEARS, NO MEMBER HAS BEEN WORSE OFF, nor have they were working at below industry pay standards.”


DHAA: Where is the evidence to support this claim? What “industry pay standards” are being referred to?

“Indeed salaries have continued to rise reflecting both the value and growing experience of DT’s, DH’s, and OHT’s while this award has been in place.”


DHAA: Where is the evidence to support this claim?

“In addition, it is illegal for employers to pay an hourly rate that is less than your current contract.”


DHAA: It is not “illegal.” It may or may not be a breach of contract – it depends on the terms. There are lots of lawful ways to reduce over award pay rates, including redundancies.

“Western Australia has been a strong test case, where dental hygiene is practiced by dental therapists in both public and private sectors, and has been covered by an Award with appropriate remuneration.”


DHAA: Where is the citation for this evidence?

“Myth: The profession will have fewer benefits than currently received.

Fact: The Award only specifies the MINIMUM industry hourly wage protected industry conditions.”


DHAA: The key point is missed. This award does not have a classification structure suitable for senior health professionals who do not have career path which includes managerial responsibilities. Hence, DHs and OHTS will be stuck at Levels 1 and 2, and never get beyond those.

Employers are only obliged to pay the minimum. The classification rates of Level 1 and 2 are such low rates, that there is no advantage. Their existence massively disadvantages DHs and OHTS in negotiations as employers understandably think they need only pay the award rates.


“The main reason ADOHTA supports the inclusion for oral health therapist in the Award is the fact that past experience has shown NO NEGATIVE IMPACTS, and only benefits for our profession.”


DHAA: Where is the evidence to support these claims?

“Indeed the Award sets the MINIMUM standard so that your other employee rights are protected. The Award will guarantee employees’ leave entitlements including long service leave, 4 weeks paid annual leave and sick leave and other benefits (shift allowance, overtime loading, etc.) which those not under an Award will need to negotiate individually. Your rate of pay will not go down as a result of being included in an Award.”


DHAA: Award free employees have exactly the same long service leave, annual leave and sick leave. Award free has automatic right to a 38 hour week. Award free does not have automatic right to penalty rates and shift loading. Employers will always pay lower pay rates if they have to pay penalties – they will not pay both.

The claim that the rate of pay will not go down as a result of being included in an award is false – there are no guarantees, and a downward shift of the rates to the award rates is inevitable – it is the big problem with minimum rates awards and a huge problem with this particular award as there are only two relevant levels and their rates are very low.


“Myth: New graduates will be employed at low hourly rates.

Fact: Hourly rates are negotiable with employers with the Award setting only a MINIMUM industry hourly wage with protected provisions on other employee conditions. At present and for the past 7 years, employers can interpret the Award and apply it to dental hygienists and oral health therapists.”


DHAA: This is false. Of course the graduates will be employed on the lowest possible rates because employers can tell themselves they are paying the correct rates.

And this particular award allows them to linger at the entry level rates indefinitely – for “years.” Many other awards do not. For example, the Storage Services award and others have provision for entry level rates to apply for only 3 months. This award does not.

The second sentence shows a profound lack of understanding of the IR system in Australia. An award that does not apply to a category of staff (such as OHTs and DHs) cannot be “interpreted” and “applied.” It is an offence under Fair Work Act to misrepresent employment conditions and apply them falsely.


“A major reason why the proposed salary rate is low is being aware the Award covers many other health professionals. The professional associations have a significant role to support our new graduates with advice on what the industry hourly rate is for private practice, which varies between all States and Territories.”


DHAA: How are new graduates going to have the strength and know-how to negotiate for themselves something better that the very specific award rate – $22.45 for a three year graduate.

“ADOHTA has done research and can share the hourly rate for a new graduate for the public sector agreement that applies in each State and Territory jurisdictions. There is evidence to demonstrate that while private sector hourly rates are often higher, they are more often casual employees without the benefits of Award conditions.”


DHAA: A public sector enterprise agreement is completely unrelated and irrelevant. Where is the evidence regarding private sector knowledge?

“You can use this table as the benchmark to negotiate your pay conditions in private practice as aMINIMUM hourly rate. It is important to recognise the rates in the public sector can have other inclusions including significant tax-free thresholds (salary packaging), CPD allowances, registrations allowances, extended leave entitlements etc.

State/Territory New Graduate Hourly Rate as at 2016
ACT $31.26
NSW $30.20
TAS $27.34
VIC $26.75
QLD $34.77
WA $34.36
SA $34.23
NT $29.76″


DHAA: This information is irrelevant and not useful in the private sector. Have ADOHTA actually researched the employment conditions in the private sector?

“We will continue to focus on improving the oral health of the community, and work to benefit our members and the profession at large with our advocacy on Provider Numbers and to removing the bar on Independent Practice from the Scope of Practice. This will provide greater opportunities in regards to the profession’s future flexible work arrangements, including for those who are self-employed, contracted, casual and permanent salaried staff members. These opportunities will mean the Award may progressively become redundant, however at present, it protects the rights of many oral health practitioners.”


DHAA: Awards never become redundant. Progressively or otherwise. This again shows a complete lack of understanding of how employment conditions work in Australia – a dangerous naivety.

“In light of the concerns, serious questions must be raised between some of the statements that have been made, and the facts. Let us stick together as a profession and find ways to collaboratively promote the interests of all members of our profession regardless of their allegiances.”


DHAA: Do ADOHTA have any evidence to dispute any of the official statements made by DHAA?

“The ADOHTA Council appreciates your continuing support and also congratulates you in maintaining industry pay standards regardless of the inclusion of dental therapists in the Award since 2010.

Yours sincerely

Tan Nguyen
President, ADOHTA”

 


JOIN THE FIGHT TO PROTECT OUR AWARD-FREE STATUS

The DHAA are campaigning to protect the award-free status of dental hygienists and oral health therapists. Here are three quick and easy ways that you can help.

1. Be a DHAA member!
Strength in numbers is vital to add weight to our case. Check that your membership is up-to-date or sign-up today. Click here.

2. Sign the official DHAA petition.
We have started a petition on ‘change.org’. Please sign it and share it. Click here.

3. Fill out a quick survey.
It’s only five questions, and will take less than a minute to complete – but will provide vital information for building our case. Click here for the one-minute survey.