Victorian community health dentists prepare to take industrial action

fair enterprise bargaining agreement for public sector dentists
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The Australian Dental Association Victorian Branch (ADAVB) has lodged an application with the Fair Work Commission for a Protected Industrial Action Ballot in pursuit of their claims for a fair enterprise bargaining agreement for public sector dentists. 

Despite negotiating in good faith for months, the Victorian Government is yet to make a formal offer to improve the pay and conditions of Australia’s lowest paid public sector dentists. 

Victoria’s public dental sector workforce is frustrated at a lack of recognition of the important work they do to improve the oral health of vulnerable Victorians. With their enterprise bargaining agreement (EBA) expiring more than two months ago and unacceptable waiting times for public dental care, they have been driven to prepare for industrial action. 

The EBA for Victorian public sector dentists expired on 30 June 2022, and the ADAVB has been working with Professionals Australia to negotiate a new EBA since the end of last year. The Victorian Government continues to stick to their draconian wage policy, offering a miserly 1.5 per cent salary increase and 0.5 per cent for additional changes to allowances or other conditions at a time when inflation is running at over six per cent. 

“Our members feel disrespected by the Victorian Government, whose members happily accepted a 3.5 per cent wage increase this year,” ADAVB CEO A/Prof Matt Hopcraft said. 

“We understand that the Victorian Government has fiscal constraints, but this wages policy was set well prior to the current economic climate, and it’s unfair to punish the dental sector. 

“There are already significant recruitment and retention problems in the Victorian public dental system, and our members are looking for a fair deal that helps them to carry on their important work in improving the oral health of vulnerable Victorians. An inequitable deal now will cause further damage to a system that is already in crisis.” 

Victorian public sector dentists are paid on average 22 per cent less than their counterparts interstate, but with larger gaps for new graduate dentists—28 per cent less than South Australia, 30 per cent less than Queensland and 33 per cent less than Tasmania. 

“The Victorian Government is talking about recruitment of health workforce from interstate to address the significant workforce challenges that they face, but it simply won’t happen in dentistry given these disparities,” A/Prof Hopcraft said.

The Victorian public dental system is in a state of decay, with average waiting times increasing to 26.7 months in June 2022, continuing the trend that has been going on since 2015 when the waiting time was only 11.8 months. 

Since 2018 the number of dentists working in the Victorian public dental sector has decreased by 19 per cent, pointing to the problems with recruitment and retention tied back to employment conditions. Although the pandemic has had an impact, this data points to a longer-term issue that must be addressed.

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