The majority of AJP readers believe pharmacy staff are at higher risk of contracting COVID-19 and should be entitled to paid pandemic leave
Pharmacists and pharmacy staff should receive paid pandemic leave in the scenario where they become infected or are required to self-isolate during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a poll run by AJP that received more than 700 votes.
In early July, the Fair Work Commission found it was “not satisfied there is an elevated risk of infection for workers covered by the Pharmacy Award”, deciding not to give the go-ahead to paid leave of up to two weeks for a range of health workers, including pharmacists and pharmacy assistants.
Several unions, including Professionals Australia/APESMA, had submitted that pharmacists were frontline workers who should be entitled to paid pandemic leave on multiple occasions.
However the Pharmacy Guild had submitted that pharmacy workers were no more likely to be exposed to COVID-19 than a range of other workers, such as those in retail, hospitality or schools.
Instead, pharmacy workers had a lower risk of contracting COVID-19 than workers in other industries, the Guild said, because of “hygiene requirements and the brevity of contact with particular customers”.
Associate Professor Chris Freeman, president of the Pharmaceutical Society of Australia, has told AJP that the PSA was “bitterly disappointed with this decision from the Fair Work Commission, as it shows a complete lack of respect for pharmacists who have continued to show up day after day to treat their patients and the community during a pandemic”.
Dr Freeman told AJP that the PSA believes pharmacists are still shouldering significant risk.
“Most pharmacists were and still are faced with situations where patients displaying symptoms of COVID-19 enter a pharmacy looking for assistance or medication which puts pharmacists and pharmacy staff at a higher risk of contracting COVID-19,” he said.
According to a poll run on our website over the past few weeks, AJP readers tend to agree.
The majority of respondents (79% – 566 voters) believe “Yes, pharmacy staff are at higher risk and should be entitled to paid pandemic leave”.
Just four percent (27 voters) said “No, pharmacy staff are not at higher risk and should not be entitled to paid pandemic leave”.
Sixteen percent (118 voters) stated that pharmacy staff should get paid pandemic leave but only if other workers such as teachers and retail staff do so as well.
And 1% voted “other”.
In response to the poll results, a spokesperson for the Guild said: “The pharmacy sector has responded quickly and effectively in relation to hygiene and social distancing measures in community pharmacy, and this is to the credit of all pharmacy staff and owners.
“However, as the Victorian situation is showing, the situation is changing rapidly and all in the industry must remain agile in our response, always having the safety and wellbeing of staff paramount,” they said.
“We welcome any support and recognition for community pharmacies and our staff. The question of support across the community for all workers affected by COVID-19 outbreaks is now an appropriate focus of Federal and State governments. As this is fast developing and worsening crisis, some details of how the support will be delivered are yet to be clarified, but as a matter of principle we believe the support by governments is warranted and essential in circumstances where workers and businesses are suffering impacts.”
Professional Pharmacists Australia has said it will continue to call on the Federal Government “to pay for health industry workers who are required to isolate”.
“Pharmacy workers were at elevated risk because sick people congregate in pharmacies and pharmacies are relatively confined spaces so aerosol transmission is more of an issue of concern than say in larger retail facilities and outside,” PPA argues.
A/Prof has said on the issue: “While we note the ruling of the FWC, PSA vehemently disagrees with submissions that state there is no greater risk or chance that a person working in a community pharmacy would come into close contact with a person who is carrying COVID-19 than any other retail environment.
“As recognised frontline health professionals, pharmacists and pharmacy staff have remained on the frontline throughout the COVID-19 pandemic treating sick patients and even after being abused or attacked by some members of the public.”