Free drugs dispensed in pay dispute


no thumbs down vitamin angry rejection refusal

Pharmacists at the Mater Hospital in Brisbane have started dispensing drugs for free to protest proposed pay cuts

On Monday, Mater Hospital received a 65% ‘no’ vote to its proposed new classification structure that would mean pay cuts of between 15-18% for its pharmacist employees, according to Professional Pharmacists Australia (PPA).

As part of protected industrial action, PPA members at the Mater have now started dispensing all medications privately to patients for free, and this action will continue indefinitely, confirms the union.

“Mater is trying to dramatically knock down the pay,” Gianni Sottile, PPA Lead Organiser Queensland told AJP, alleging the private hospital is also refusing to include protections against contracting out in the new agreement.

“We’re about to meet with all the other unions, we want to come to a deal with the Mater but we need it to be a deal that lets our members live their lives and not have a dramatic cut in their pay. Such a pay cut affects the way they can care for their families and their patients,” said Mr Sottile.

“Our members are fighting for themselves, but they’re fighting for the future of the profession,” said PPA President, Dr Geoff March.

“Members care about patient safety, so we’re hitting the Mater in the hip pocket to show them that we are serious about fighting these cuts.

“PPA wants to send a clear message to pharmacy employers: we will stand up for the future of the profession,” said Dr March.

“Pharmacists are health professionals, and their pay and conditions should reflect the level of skill, and the vital role they play in keeping patients safe and treated properly.”

Gianni Sottile speaks to Mater pharmacists
Gianni Sottile speaks to Mater pharmacists.

Last month, 97% of union members at the Mater voted in favour of industrial action, warning that this could include putting up posters, dispensing drugs to patients free of costs, and to strike.

Following that vote, Mater said in a statement provided to AJP that it values the contribution of its pharmacists and is “committed to working with employees and their representatives to finalise a new Health Practitioners Enterprise Agreement”.

“As a private, not-for-profit healthcare provider, during this routine process Mater is seeking to find a balance between the individual interests of its employees and the ongoing sustainability of these services,” it said.

Acting Regional Executive Director of Mater Health (South East Queensland), Justin Greenwell outlined his support in finalising a new pharmacy agreement which he said would balance the best interests of both employees and healthcare services.

“Mater continues to work with employees to ensure we are providing the best possible position for our employees and provision of our services,” he said.

Mater added that it will continue to work with its employees and their representatives to finalise a new Agreement.

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20 Comments

  1. pagophilus
    11/02/2020

    There’s nothing to “balance”. Pay only rises, in line with inflation. It never goes backward.

    • Cogrady
      01/03/2020

      I got paid 20 dollars and hour in 1986 its gone so far backwards its criminal

  2. John Wilks
    11/02/2020

    The attempt at a pay cut reflects the disdain in which pharmacists worth is held. One interesting option would be to link pharmacist pay movements to those of drs and management. A resolution would be swiftly achieved.

    • rose DJOUDI
      13/02/2020

      sorry guys but how many years have we been ” talking writing ” about this issue , its going nowhere witout action , if we walked out of the job for just half a day people will listen , we need to take ourselves seriously WE ARE NOT BEGGING !!!!! regards

  3. Andrew Duffus
    11/02/2020

    It’s very sad what has happened to our profession , those who have driven down wages should hang their heads in shame! Greed rules I’m afraid

  4. vixeyv
    11/02/2020

    Good on the pharmacists maintaining patient care as we were trained to but stickin-it-to-the-man by charging mediations for free. Yes pharmacy cares and it shows!… could the boss also care about pay??

  5. Notachemist
    11/02/2020

    Very disappointed that a not for profit body like the Mater would treat employees in this way – very disrespectful. This show a lack of appreciation for the value that pharmacists add in this setting in terms of patient safety.

  6. Michael Khoo
    11/02/2020

    The cause might be a noble one, and there is a right to take industrial action within lawful bounds, but how is this not classified as theft, with a possibility of fraud against the Commonwealth if PBS items are involved. I think the people involved should consult a lawyer pronto, or they will be giving a free kick to their opponents.

    We don’t want another “Dollar Sweets” case.

    • Notachemist
      11/02/2020

      It is classified as protected industrial relations action. They are being guided by PPA who are able to provide expert advice.

      • Michael Khoo
        13/02/2020

        I reckon if I worked for say, a car yard, and I started giving cars away for free I would be up on charges pretty darn fast, regardless of the expert advice of the union. Likewise, If I was upset at my employer and started giving PBS subsidized scripts for free, from the Commonwealth’s point of view the Pharmaceutical Benefits Act is being breached regardless. Fraud and Theft are a very different thing to withholding labor, refusal to supply a script would be a protected action, but refusing to collect payment whilst still handing over someone else’s property is very dubious in my opinion.

        Maybe I am a little paranoid, but the Dollar Sweets case did so much damage to the Union movement and changed the nature of industrial action in Australia to this day. It also made the reputations of Mr Kroger and Mr Costello. It was Australia’s “Thatcher” moment, and was all because a few people overstepped the bounds of reasonable industrial action in a tiny little dispute that would have been long forgotten otherwise.

        • Notachemist
          13/02/2020

          No need to be paranoid Michael Khoo. This action is legal under Fair Work legislation. Protected Industrial Action is exactly that and is part of the bargaining process. Denying income for an employer is a common form of action taken by employees. For example public transport workers refusing to take fares, police or traffic officers refusing to issue fines are very similar actions to pharmacists refusing to collect payment for dispensed medication. Provided the action has been taken in accordance with the requirements of the legislation including giving notice to the employer the employees are safe from prosecution. The pharmacists are continuing to put their patients’ interests first by dispensing medication and reviewing prescribed medication for safety. They are simply not collecting revenue. Refer to the relevant legislation before making further comment.

          • Michael Khoo
            14/02/2020

            I have read several relevant parts of the legislation and I think smartass laywers like Kroger and Costello could drive a truck through it.

            The only recourse the strikers have is that a representative of the Fairwork commission should have signed off on it. I have found no clauses that grant immunity from common law prosecution, or indeed, legal action taken by the Commonwealth if PBS items were supplied without charge.

            The cost of a PBS script is set by Commonwealth Law and is collected as mandated by law. I am hoping the Fairwork was aware that this money collected is not quite the same thing as a train ticket or parking fine.

            I guess it is OK if the Commonwealth was listed as a party subject to this “protected” action.

            Even the hard case lawyers of the discount chains cannot find a way to supply PBS scripts for free without breaching federal legislation, so I doubt the PAA have.

            The safest course of action in this case is, with the consent of the patient, to dispense the scripts as non-pbs then refuse to charge, or direct the patient to a nearby PBS approved Pharmacy. They could also have paid for the scripts themselves, which is not an uncommon occurrence in community pharmacy when patients present without the means to pay for vital medication.

          • Paul Sapardanis
            14/02/2020

            So if a third can pay what stops a head office being billed to pay for pbs subsidised medication?

          • Michael Khoo
            14/02/2020

            Someone is obliged to pay as that payment is a component of the benefit then passed on to the approval holder. Some charities set up accounts to pay for PBS scripts, as does the Red Cross. One Pharmacy I managed had an account for an Army Regiment.

          • Paul Sapardanis
            14/02/2020

            No my question is can a marketing group pay. Yes I to have charities pay for some accounts but if i pay that is the same as not collecting payment? I would imagine that I am not the only pharmacy that has unpaid accounts that have pbs subsidised medication on them?

          • Notachemist
            14/02/2020

            The scripts are being made private as per the article and priced at $0. The Fair Work legislation was created specifically to stop the Dollar Sweets situation occurring again. As bargaining between the Mater and the employees is ongoing it is unlikely that the Mater will institute any action against the employees as this would disrupt the bargaining process and they could be prosecuted under Fair Work. None of this is good for the reputation of the Mater and as a not for profit Catholic institution they will need to be seen to act in accordance with their values. Michael Khoo your comments above about lawyers, fraud and theft are just scaremongering. We need the profession to be empowered to seek adequate income. The income needs to adequately reflect the knowledge and skills of pharmacists. This is important to ensure that our role in the broader community is respected and valued. If you pay peanuts you get monkeys. Pharmacists are highly educated health professionals who have critical thinking and problem solving skills. We need to support this campaign whatever our politics and whatever our role in pharmacy. Low salaries are not in the interests of nay members of the pharmacy profession as they devalue our work and our role.

          • Michael Khoo
            28/02/2020

            Thank you for addressing my valid concerns. I could care less about the characters of the parties involved in this dispute, but I am greatly concerned if the PBS pricing restrictions can be so easily and flippantly disregarded. If you do not understand the implications and those who might exploit this then you truly are “Notachemist”

          • Notachemist
            29/02/2020

            Never been a chemist, always a pharmacist. Disagree that the PBS pricing restrictions are being flippantly disregarded in this situation within a private hospital setting – if it were possible to disregard PBS pricing restrictions other players would have done it long ago. I am more interested in the main issue of pay cuts for pharmacists.

          • Paul Sapardanis
            01/03/2020

            Agree Michael. I CAN understand the implications of disregarding PBS pricing policy and I am surprised that someone hasn’t yet tried. I would be surprised though that a bunch of employed pharmacists would be penalized as they don’t stand to gain a competitive business advantage as say a management group.

  7. TALL POPPY
    11/02/2020

    It’s time you pharmacists take a stand against poor wages. Honestly – $55/hr is what you should be paid in all fairness if wages kept in-line with inflation. How much did your council rates/body corporate/insurance/rent go up in the last 12 months? Pharmacists were being paid $35/hr straight out of Uni 20 years ago!
    Look at all the other trades and professions that get pay rises with a bit of pressure. When was the last time you lot got a proper pay rise?

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