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Fast work to secure a pay rise

Her employer said he would ‘take into account’ recommendations from the DDRB (Doctors and Dentists Review Body) in determining whether she should get a pay rise.

It is doubtful that he did because, for almost three years, the salaried GP in a personal medical services practice received not a penny’s increase. As other NHS incomes rose — albeit modestly — in April 2007, 2008 and 2009, this doctor’s income was stuck where it had been the day she had started work in September 2006.

But this was not a question of ‘grey areas’ when it came to interpreting her contract of employment. In fact, her contract could hardly have been clearer. It said: ‘Your salary will be increased by annual increments on April 1 each year in accordance with the government’s decision on the pay of general practitioners following [a] recommendation [from] the DDRB.’

She contacted the BMA earlier this year. The IRO (industrial relations officer) advised her to submit a formal grievance and assisted her with the wording. But even with apparently cast-iron legal claims, the time limits imposed on many types of cases can still lead many to lose out.

The obvious way forward was to claim breach of contract, but the IRO was concerned that the GP might be out of time, because she had waited so long to invoke the clause in her contract promising the annual salary increase.

But all was not lost. A failure to award a pay increase might be deemed a ‘continuing unlawful deduction’ from wages in contravention of section 13(1) of the Employment Rights Act 1996.

Once this was established, the BMA needed to move fast. The application to the employment tribunal needed to be submitted within three months of the last date for a salary increase, and the deadline was now less than a fortnight away.

To establish how much the doctor was owed, the IRO researched what the percentage salary rise should have been each year, and, using these figures, calculated she was owed £2,636.

With this information, he immediately submitted an unlawful-deduction-from-wages claim to an employment tribunal. The practice paid up at once, without the need for a formal hearing.

The BMA places great emphasis on doctors having a suitable contract, and this shows why.

It is a legally enforceable document, not something from which an employer can pick and choose. But just because certain rights are enshrined in a contract, it does not always mean they come automatically, and sometimes a doctor still has to fight for them.

The organisation cannot stress enough that acting fast on a grievance or complaint is vital as there are time constraints on certain claims. These limits exist both in law and in many employers’ policies and procedures.

The BMA’s regional services staff have the expertise to get members their just deserts, but only if timely contact is made with the BMA when injustice is suspected.