Why pharmacy needs to retain penalty rates

piggy bank: penalty rates concept

Are pharmacists health professionals, or general retail workers, wonders Dr Geoff March.

The Productivity Commission’s draft report into Australia’s Workplace Relations Framework has recommended reducing penalty rates for the retail and hospitality sectors – and as it stands, the Pharmacy Guild supports reducing these rates in pharmacies.

People who work on weekends and in the evenings miss out on a lot.

There aren’t many people who plan family get-togethers in the middle of the week. If I was to plan a birthday party, and told my friends and family to come around to my place on Tuesday at lunchtime, it would be a fairly lonely event.

Weekends are still the time when most of us have time with our families, and plan these social events. But you can’t go away for the weekend if you’re working those days, you can’t hold a party if you’re working Saturday night and you can’t take your children to sporting commitments if you’re working weekend mornings.

This is the same for all workers who give up their Saturdays and Sundays for work, and why they are remunerated accordingly: because penalty rates recognise that by working on weekends, there is an impact on employees’ lives, and penalty rates compensate them fairly.

We don’t believe that any employee should face cuts in their take-home pay because they work weekends and public holidays. However the Productivity Commission has confirmed that health and emergency services workers should not have their rates cut, and that is where we would argue that pharmacy sits, as it is so much more than just a retailer.

Many people in pharmacy leadership talk about how important and vital pharmacy is to the health care system – and yet when they’re talking to the Fair Work Commission, they seem to talk about pharmacy being squarely in the retail sector.

We’ve recently called on the leaders of the Pharmacy Guild to drop their support for slashing pharmacist weekend and public holiday pay rates.

If pharmacists are at the front line of primary health care and expanding more into patient-centric roles, as pharmacy leadership keeps advocating, the question for pharmacy owners is whether or not they agree that community pharmacy really is part of that wider health system – and if so, to accept that keeping penalty rates is the appropriate and fair thing to do.

In fact, we have conversations with pharmacy owners who are indeed equally concerned about the low level of wages, and actually support our approach to increasing the minimum wage.

However it remains that some of the pharmacy owners and groups are paying pharmacists to work in their pharmacies at salaries that aren’t valuing them as health professionals.

If that situation doesn’t change, then ultimately pharmacy will suffer, but importantly – and this should be of most concern to policy-makers – patient care will suffer as well, as good pharmacists seek to leave the profession.

Dr Geoff March is the president of Professional Pharmacists Australia.

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