$1.2 million in pharmacist underpayments


Pharmacists received over one million in compensation in just 12 months, mainly due to award underpayments and non-payment of entitlements, says pharmacist union

Between 1 October 2016 and 1 October 2017, Professional Pharmacists Australia recovered $1.2 million for members through representation in court or before industrial commissions, letters of demand send by union staff, or member recoveries acting on union staff advice.

This number may jump even higher in coming years after laws passed in the Senate last month will see penalties of up to $630,000 for “unscrupulous” employers who knowingly underpay their employees.

The new legislation “reinforces the importance for all community pharmacies to ensure that they comply with the terms, conditions and remuneration requirements of the respective workplace instrument, being either the Pharmacy Industry Award 2010, state-based Award or an Enterprise Agreement,” National President George Tambassis told Guild members when it was passed.

So how can employers avoid being on the receiving end of such hefty penalties? What did the 288 cases involve?

There were a few common trends, explains Jacki Baulch, Senior Industrial Officer at Professionals Australia.

The most common were:

1. Compensation for underpayment of award rates of pay and/or penalties and allowances.

“We have had many cases over the last twelve months where the pharmacy owner has not paid their employee pharmacists the correct award rate of pay and relevant penalty rates or allowances,” Ms Baulch tells AJP.

“In these sorts of cases the payments made can exceed tens of thousands of dollars, mainly because they can extend back over a number of years.”

These cases can include:

Straight underpayment of the award minimum rate of pay.

For example, an intern pharmacist being paid $15 an hour when the award minimum rate of pay at the time was $21.74 an hour.

Pharmacists’ minimum hourly rate of pay not being increased to the Experienced Pharmacist rate of pay when they have obtained 4 years’ experience as a registered pharmacist as is required by the Award.

Pharmacists not receiving full compensation for working during hours that attract penalties.

For example, an experienced pharmacist was required to work on Saturdays and Sundays and was paid $35 an hour (approximately $7 an hour above the award minimum at the time) but this did not fully compensate him for the penalties he must also be paid for working on Saturdays and Sundays.

Pharmacists not receiving payment of allowances.

The most common non-payment of allowances is where the pharmacist is the sole pharmacist on duty and they can’t take a lunch break. Under the Award pharmacists who cannot take a break because they’re the sole pharmacist on duty must be paid an allowance of 150% of the award minimum rate for their classification for the period of their lunch break.

“We have seen many instances where pharmacists have not been paid this allowance over the last twelve months,” says Ms Baulch.

2. Compensation for non-payment of entitlements on resignation. 

“Some pharmacy owners do not pay employee pharmacists their full resignation entitlements,” says Ms Baulch.

She says the most common instances are:

Where the owner does not pay accrued long service leave and/or accrued annual leave on termination of employment.

Where owners have asked pharmacists to leave as soon as they hand in their resignation and have not paid the pharmacist their full notice period entitlement even though they are required to do so.

“Under the Fair Work Act and the Pharmacy Industry Award, employers must pay employees accrued annual leave entitlements and the required ‘notice period’ if the employee gives the correct notice even if the employer terminates their employment prior to the expiry of the notice period,” says Ms Baulch.

“We have also noticed that a large number of pharmacy owners are not aware that the Long Service Leave legislation in every state requires employers to count periods of casual service when calculating long service leave entitlements and that, in most state, employees are entitled to receive pro-rata long service leave payments after seven years’ service.

“We have had many instances where employee pharmacists have not been paid for long service leave that accrued during periods of casual employment of upon leaving after seven or more years’ service.”

3. Compensation for non-payment of redundancy entitlements.

Over the last twelve months the PPA has seen a number of cases where a pharmacist has been made redundant but they have not been paid a redundancy payment even though they are legally entitled to receive one.

“Under the Fair Work Act an employer who employs more than 15 employees across all of the businesses they own or have an interest in must pay a redundancy payment to employees based on their years of service,” Ms Baulch explains.

“Only employers who employ less than 15 employees in all the businesses they own or have an interest in are not required to pay redundancy payments to employees they make genuinely redundant.

“These sorts of cases usually result in the pharmacist receiving between two and three months’ pay.”

4. Compensation for unfair dismissal. 

“We have taken up a number of unfair dismissal cases over the last twelve months. Usually these sort of cases have resulted in agreed settlements of between one and three months compensation because the employer has not followed and met their obligations under the Fair Work Act when terminating an employee’s service.”

“Employee pharmacists should know what they’re entitled to receive. They should be very wary of any employers who do not provide them with written information on their terms and conditions of employment,” says Ms Baulch.

“The best way to make sure that you’re getting a fair deal is to make sure that you obtain written details from your employer of your terms and conditions of employment prior to commencing employment.”

“You should also ensure that any changes to your employment arrangements are also documented and you should they keep a copy of these arrangements.

“We also strongly recommend that that pharmacists keep records of the hours they work and their pay slips so that if there is an underpayment problem this information can be used to resolve the problem.

“While employers have a legal obligation to provide employees with all of their legal entitlements employees should also know what their employment entitlements are – particularly what the minimum legal rate of pay is for their work.  This information is readily available from the Fair Work Commission or from PPA.”

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