Here are some common misunderstandings and misconceptions about the NTCER, and the facts that you need to know.
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Misunderstanding & Misconception #5
"GP registrars are not required to work weekends."
There is no clause within the NTCER that explicitly excludes registrars from being rostered to work every weekend. However, Read more...
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....however, while noting that after-hours work is "considered to be a normal part of general practice" (NTCER cl. 10.10), it is important to recognise that for after-hours work (i.e. outside the ordinary span of hours of between 8am and 8pm Monday to Friday and 8am and 1pm on Saturday, as per NTCER cl. 10.5), the clear expectation is that rostering arrangements for registrars "shall be no more onerous than those of other full-time doctors in the practice (pro rata for part-time registrars)" (as per cl. 10.10). The specific intention is to prevent registrars being overused for, or carrying a disproportionate load of, the weekend and after-hours rostering. As such, there should be other part-time (and full-time) GPs who are also rostered to work every weekend at the practice.
To avoid any confusion or disagreement down the track, it is always best to discuss the rostering arrangement with the registrar prior to their commencement (i.e. at the interview) and have this included as part of the employment agreement.
Misunderstanding & Misconception #4
“It is okay to start working at the practice now, we will sort out the paperwork (your employment agreement) later.”
GPRA recommends to always have a written employment agreement in place, signed and dated by you and your employer, BEFORE starting work with a copy retained for both parties for your records. Read more...
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Having all aspects of your employment arrangements (for example, leave, education release and in-practice teaching provisions; rostering; on-call, after-hours and home-visits requirements, etc) in writing is in the best interests of both you and your employer — it protects both parties, ensures you are on the same page, and provides clarity if there is ever a dispute about the terms and conditions of your employment. GPRA provides an employment agreement template that can assist.
It is also very important that you read and ensure that you understand ALL clauses and items in the employment agreement, BEFORE you sign off, as this is a legally binding contract. If you are uncertain about any item discuss and clarify this with the practice manager or supervisor. Do not make assumptions or gloss over things!
Even if the terms and conditions of your employment are the NTCER minimum, be sure to have this in writing. Read the NTCER document, when you reviewing the employment agreement so that you know what these minimum terms and conditions are, before you sign.
Remember, a signed employment agreement also gives you the opportunity to put any special items in writing, such as specific dates of annual leave or rostering arrangements (This may be important for you, if you have specific family needs or other commitments). It also gives you the chance to negotiate your terms and conditions above the NTCER minimum.
A helpful tip is to request a mid-term review of your employment agreement and include this in the written agreement. This allows for the possibility of renegotiating some of your terms and conditions and the practice may be more willing to consider this once you are better known and have demonstrated the value you bring to the practice. But be sure to get everything that is agreed upon included in your employment agreement and signed off by both parties.
Starting to work without a written employment agreement does not mean that a contract does not exist. Essentially every employment relationship involves a "contract" between an employer and an employee.
This contract may be verbal or in writing or may sometimes involve a mix of the two. It is not necessary to specifically agree on a contract for one to exist. If you agreed to start working (even though you do not have a written employment agreement) then this implies some form of "contract" is in place between you and the training practice.
The fact that an employee is working for an employer brings with it certain fundamental implied terms, such as the right to payment for work performed and a duty of mutual trust and confidence.
The inherent difficulty with verbal contracts or relying on implied terms (in cases where there is no specific written agreement or only a limited verbal agreement) is that there can be later disagreement about what was agreed in the first place. And this often comes down to one person’s word against another.
Misunderstanding & Misconception #3
"It is fairer for training practices to pay the registrar’s percentage billings on a 13-week cycle."
A common misconception is that it is fairer for training practices to pay the registrars percentage billings on a 13-week cycle. In fact, in relation to billing cycle interval, the 2017 GPRA benchmarking survey showed that less than 30% of training practices are using a 13-week billing/receipts cycle. Read more...
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The NTCER Schedule A Remuneration states that:
- “The registrar will be paid the base rate of pay … fortnightly, with the difference between the base rate of pay and the percentage (if applicable) paid at no longer than three monthly intervals“;
- “For the purposes of the percentage calculations … , the cycle is inclusive of any periods of leave taken, including annual leave”.
Paying the percentage at 3-monthly intervals (13-week cycle) has benefits for the training practice in that fluctuations in billing/receipts by the registrar, occurring for a range of reasons (including variations in patient load, periods of leave, public holidays or education release), are “smoothed” over a 13-weeks calculation.
However, this does not benefit the registrar as leave or public holidays within the 13-week cycle period reduce the amount of earnings returned in the percentage calculation.
I n addition, the delay of up to 13 weeks to receive a component of remuneration can have a significant impact on cash flow for registrars who will only be receiving the base-rate during this period.
GPRA notes that there is significant variation in training practices and the business models under which they operate.
In this context, the NTCER is correctly implemented as a “minimum safety net” with flexibility in employment agreements allowed; as per NTCER clause 2:
- “A registrar and employer may negotiate terms and conditions different from those outlined [in the NTCER] by mutual agreement, provided they are no less favourable to the registrar and are consistent with any applicable legislative instrument”
- and Schedule A: “By mutual agreement, registrars and employers are free to negotiate higher base rates or percentages, or shorter billing cycles.”
While there is no obligation on training practices to offer terms and conditions above the NTCER minimum, there are a number of business and other reasons that a practice may consider in doing so.
In fact, in relation to billing cycle interval, the 2017 GPRA benchmarking survey showed that less than 30% of training practices are using a 13-week billing/receipts cycle.
Possible reasons for training practices to agree to shorter billing cycles, include:
- Equity with other consultant GPs at the practice, who receive their percentage of billings on a fortnightly (or monthly) basis.
- Administrative ease in managing all payroll calculations at the same time. For example, on a fortnightly cycle registrar earnings is simply the higher of either (a) base rate of pay or (b) 44.79% of billings/receipts – there is no need to calculate a “percentage top up” at another time.
- It is fairer for the registrar and develops goodwill with the future GP workforce.
- Registrars, on 44.79% of billings, receive a lower proportion of their total billings earned compared with consultant GPs (who typically earn 65%+ as contractors). While this is considered in the context of a guaranteed minimum base rate of pay, the higher proportion of registrars’ billings retained by the practice can be used to offset employment costs, such as paid leave, for registrars rather than having leave periods “smoothed” out of the registrar’s share of their billings.
- Considering the percentage as an incentive payment, then a cycle that enables this to be paid on a more frequent basis is more likely to facilitate improved productivity of the registrar.
Misunderstanding & Misconception #2
"If a GP registrar is being paid above the NTCER, they are being overpaid."
A common misconception is that if a GP registrar is receiving terms and conditions of employment above the National Terms and Conditions for the Employment of Registrars (NTCER) minimum, they are being overpaid. This is not true.
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The NTCER states: "A registrar and employer may negotiate terms and conditions different from those outlined [in the NTCER] by mutual agreement, provided they are no less favourable to the registrar and are consistent with any applicable legislative instrument."
The NTCER outlines the MINIMUM terms and conditions of employment which GP registrars must receive. Accreditation standards for all training practices require that the terms and conditions in registrar employment agreements must NOT be less than the NTCER — this means that registrars can negotiate for terms and conditions above those set out in the NTCER and these may be achieved if a mutual agreement can be reached.
GPRA encourages all GP registrars to take an active role and a realistic approach to negotiating their employment agreement.
Once you have Fellowed, as a consultant GP, you will likely need to negotiate for work in general practice as a contractor. Being actively involved in negotiating your employment agreement and understanding the "business-side" of general practice as a GP registrar is a good experience for the future.
Misunderstanding & Misconception #1
"There is no need for a GP registrar to negotiate their employment agreement."
A common misunderstanding is that, because GPRA negotiates the National Terms and Conditions for the Employment of Registrars (NTCER) with General Practice Supervisors Australia (GPSA), there is no need for GP registrar to also negotiate their employment agreement with their training practice. This is not the case.
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When aiming for terms and conditions higher than the minimum, registrars need to be realistic and negotiate based on the value you bring to your practice; you are more likely to be successful in negotiating terms and conditions above the NTCER when you are GPT3/PRRT3 terms and beyond.
The NTCER is not a registered award; your signed employment agreement is the legal document under which you are employed. Remember, whatever terms and conditions you and your practice agree upon — whether it is the NTCER minimum or above — get it written into your employment agreement and signed BEFORE you commence working for the training practice.