Is the new junior doctors contract discriminatory?

Junior doctors have commenced their fourth strike over the new contract. The minutiae of this contract have been discussed and are not worth revisiting in detail here, but the latest argument from the British Medical Association – that the contract discriminates against female doctors- is worth examining.

The argument is being made in response to the publication by the Department of Health of an “equality analysis” on the new contract that was published last week and centres around the issue of pay progression.

While the debate so far has essentially concerned rates of pay for unsocial hours, a major change being made under the new contract is the ending of time-served automatic annual pay progression (AAPP). To quote from the Department of Health directly:

“Pay increases based on successful progress through training and taking up a post at the next level of responsibility will replace automatic annual increments based on time served. The current system means all junior doctors get an automatic pay increase every year, regardless of achievement and performance, leading to examples under the current contract of high flying junior doctors supervising colleagues who are paid at a higher rate because they have progressed more slowly.”

Under the current system, a doctor employed by the NHS can take maternity or paternity leave which counts towards AAPP. It is therefore possible for doctors to take time out of the NHS to look after children, return after the statutory 52 weeks of maternity leave and move up a pay grade the same as a doctor who did not take any time out and progressed through training.

This is nether fair, nor a practice which exists at the overwhelming majority of employers. Doctors should be paid according to their level of competence and responsibility to maximise taxpayer value.

“Discrimination” is a very loaded word. It could be argued just as validly that the status quo discriminates against doctors who don’t want to have children, focus on their career and advance through their training.

Just because the status quo is that maternity leave counts as “time served” is not a valid reason to protect it.

There are some contentious aspects of the new contract, but surely the idea that doctors should be paid according to their skills is not one of them?