Low pay risking the profession


New data shows that pharmacists are among the lowest-paid workers in Australia – and pay may be going backwards

The recently released Community Pharmacists’ Employment and Remuneration Report has revealed that pharmacists are both the lowest-paid out of a range of health professionals, and have low confidence about their future in the profession.

The union for employee pharmacists released the new report, which also shows that the low pay starts immediately – at $40,000 for a pharmacy graduate.

The average graduate pharmacist wage actually declined from $42,000 the year prior, representing a 4.8% decrease, according to the report.

“This decline comes after many years of stagnant growth, and represents a major divergence from graduate rates more broadly, which averaged $60,000 across all professions in 2016,” the report says.

“These findings fall reasonably in line with responses from our survey, with pharmacists reporting declining wages over the past year, and little to no growth over the past five years.”

Professionals Australia CEO Chris Walton says that “on graduation, pharmacists’ median starting salaries are the lowest of all bachelor degree graduates, alongside artists and below every other health workforce”.

Pay remains low after the graduate year, with the average wage across the country falling by 1%, though the average hourly rate actually rose very slightly, by half a percentage point.

“As a result, pharmacists’ wages have failed to keep pace with consumer prices, effectively resulting in a pay reduction as their purchasing power declined,” the report found.

“Wage growth has also fallen well behind wage growth across the wider economy. While the issue of weak wage growth has received significant media attention in recent months, wages across Australia still rose by an average of 2%.

“This represents a much higher rate than reported by pharmacists, and indicates that there are major issues present across the industry preventing fair remuneration of pharmacists.”

Pharmacist annual income trails far below that of other health professionals.

Health profession

Average annual salary

Psychiatrists

$191.599

Anaesthetists

$179,894

GPs 

$156,431

Dental practitioners

$84,411

Optometrists

$76,434

Nurses

$71,900

Pharmacists

$66,955

The report found that the average wage for an intern is $23.02 an hour; for a pharmacist $32.49 an hour; an “experienced pharmacist” $36.66 an hour and a pharmacist-in-charge $35.95 an hour. A pharmacist manager can expect to earn $38.49 an hour on average.

Across all classifications, pharmacists in banner group pharmacies reported a mean base hourly rate of $36.32.

Pharmacists in discount pharmacies reported a mean base hourly rate of only $31.03, which is 14.6% lower than banner group pharmacies.

Pharmacists employed at the National Pharmacies banner group reported the highest mean base hourly rate of $41.50 across all classifications. Meanwhile, pharmacists employed at the Chemist Warehouse discount reported the lowest mean base hourly rate of only $30.52 across all classifications.

And the added responsibility involved with the expansion of pharmacy’s scope of practice is not reflected in pharmacist pay, the report warns: only 8.4% of respondents said they were paid to perform professional services.

The report contrasts the flat rate of pharmacist pay growth with the increase in PBS expenditure of 4.1% over the past five years, and the 2% increase in prescription volumes.

However, a spokesperson for the Pharmacy Guild questioned this comparison.

“The comparison of the growth in the Government’s PBS spend with growth in wages is entirely spurious,” the spokesperson said.

“The national spend on the PBS is influenced by, among other things,  the listing of new drugs, some of which are highly expensive, for hospital use and go nowhere near your local community pharmacy.”

 

Confidence low

The report warns that with confidence so low in career progression, the profession is at risk.

“Pharmacists’ jobs have increased in responsibility and complexity in recent years, with many routinely providing vaccinations services and health checks in addition to dispensing medicines,” it says.

“Yet low pay is dragging community pharmacy down and placing the future of the profession at risk.

“Discount pharmacy chains have grown rapidly by employing low-cost business models, and as a result their pharmacists are paid close to, or at, the current Award rate. We also know that the market share of the discount chains has been increasing, creating a race to the bottom on wages.

“The survey findings clearly indicate that the current trends in pharmacists’ remuneration are having a detrimental effect on the morale of the profession, with the large majority of pharmacists reporting that they see no future in pharmacy.

“Most pharmacists surveyed would not recommend pharmacy as a career.”

The spokesperson for the Pharmacy Guild said that minimum award rates were increased by 2.6% in 2016, “so to assert 0.5% wage growth for pharmacists suggests a flaw in the survey”.

“Those minimum award rates are the subject of a work value case currently being considered by the Fair Work Commission,” the spokesperson told the AJP.

“The Guild is committed to supporting members to ensure they uphold their obligations and responsibilities as employers, and that means paying at or above the minimum award rates.

“The survey does show that many pharmacies, particularly the non-discount model pharmacies are paying pharmacists well in excess of the minimum award rate.”

PSA’s recently released Early Career Pharmacist White Paper 2017 has recognised that inadequate remuneration is “the single largest issue” identified by early career pharmacists.

AJP readers have been contributing their own stories of frustration at low pay in the last week or so, on a variety of stories.

“Aldi shop assistants get paid better than a pharmacist,” wrote reader United we stand.

Karalyn Huxhagen wrote that “I work in catering for $25per hr. I join nil unions or professional bodies. All of my WPHS gear is supplied. I walk in, perform my shift and leave. When I add up my [pharmacist] income and subtract all the fees I pay to be registered and accredited and meet my CPD point allowance I make more money in hospitality”.

“The award is not good enough and hasn’t been raised enough to align with cost of living,” wrote David Lund.

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