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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17 Comments

  1. Ronky
    18/08/2017

    Interesting to see what the Guild regards as “well in excess” of the minimum award rates, i.e. about 5 to 10%. Remembering that the award rate is the absolute minimum anything below which is ipso facto proof of exploitation, even for the most minimally competent and minimally productive pharmacist doing the least demanding job. So the Guild thinks that on average we’re worth just 5 to 10% more than that.
    But don’t worry, the Guild is committed to “supporting” members to “ensure” they pay at least the minimum required by law. How nice. It’s the Government’s role to ensure that people obey the law; not sure why any “support” should be needed to make people do it.

    • Stephanie Bennett
      21/08/2017

      Low wages are only part of the problem- not having breaks and working 11 hour days probably fails the fair work test.

  2. chris
    21/08/2017

    When the time to pay the piper comes, I would like to know whether Guild owned pharmacies are actually worth anything in goodwill considering the big chains are taking over and they pay a pittance. Self interest and greed may eventually bite the hands that feed.

    • Andrew
      21/08/2017

      Retail pharmacy is a Ponzi in every respect.

      Whoever is left over when the music stops is SOOL.

  3. Glen Bayer
    21/08/2017

    The table of comparative wage rates is a misleading – comparing a pharmacist who does 3-4 years of uni and an intern year before practising is a little different to a medical specialist who does a 6 year degree, 4 years of junior training, then specialises, and has massive liability overheads (compared with about $200 for our PI insurance) is unrealistic. Show comparative allied health wages to see where we actually fit in the scheme of things.

    Having said all that, paying someone $25 an hour when a McDonalds kitchen hand gets $19 an hour, and doesn’t have to study for 5 years, then do ridiculous amounts of CPD each year is a joke.

    • Philip Smith
      21/08/2017

      Side note about insurance, spoke to a retiring GP this morning, she said her insurance is based on how much she earned. It was $3000 for 3 days a week work.

  4. Toby
    21/08/2017

    No-one wants to address the real reasons for the low pay: pharmacists have done it to themselves. How? By not sticking together, to present a united, strong front to the government – like the AMA does. Also by only being determined, when it comes to knifing the competitor pharmacist in the back. How many ads do you see saying ‘Do YOU pay too much for your surgical procedures? Pay less at Surgeons-R-Us’. No use moaning, until WE as a profession, change our culture.

    • Ahmed Zeidan
      22/08/2017

      Everyone should join the PPA. The stronger the union the bigger the impact they can do. Look at what happened with Nurses Unions!

  5. John
    21/08/2017

    Pharmacy profession in its current state is an absolute joke, there is ZERO career develeopment, you start as a pharmacist then it eventually leads to Pharmacist in charge/manager and that is it, in the past there was the prospect of opening a store, but now with all the discount pharmacies about, the risk is just far too great for any type of gains. You plateaued completely with regards to pay (not to mention how bad it is). I completely agree with the statement in the article that “Most pharmacists surveyed would not recommend pharmacy as a career” I can tell you now, ALL my pharmacist colleagues that i keep in contact with from Uni have NOT ONCE recommended pharmacy as a profession for VCE students. I have been asked numerous times by parents (with kids going through VCE) that either come in for prescriptions or even family friends, I told them to stay away from pharmacy no matter what, you wouldn’t want to go anywhere near it. Why would you waste 4 years of Uni studies as well as a full year of internship to land such a terrible career prospect? Seriously things need to change. I think its almost time i jump ship as well to be honest.

    • Ahmed Zeidan
      22/08/2017

      But Jump the ship and do what ?

      • Deborah Taylor
        25/08/2017

        Hospitality seems better. Even checkout chick earns more

  6. Philip Smith
    21/08/2017

    So this has been the case for how many years now?
    What has been done about it by anyone, any group? Because it clearly hasn’t worked.
    As I’ve said before, we are entering a death spiral where the good and great pharmacist will leave the profession for better remuneration, leaving behind the average to below, people won’t get the service or advice and will seek information elsewhere from Nurses, Dr etc and we will become irrelevant.

    What’s the fix?
    Everyone will have a different idea, but pharmacies are too expensive, pharmacist are too accessible, need consultation room and paid MBS styles. S3s are a joke.
    We stock stuff we shouldn’t and stock that doesnt sell (could shrink floor space and rent). The government has no idea what we do outside of dispense and doesn’t want to pay us for things we do for free (I’m paid the same as a discount pharmacy by government but may offer over twice the value in advice).
    Stop doing stuff from free! Your time is valuable.

  7. Amandarose
    21/08/2017

    I think low graduate wages are fair as it part of training. It’s mutually beneficial. Your real value starts after that.
    We should be comparing a first year pharmacist to have a fair comparison.

    • Simon wei
      21/08/2017

      the paid is still low even if you compare with 1st year pharmacist. worst professional ever

    • M M
      24/08/2017

      is this your problem?

  8. Bryan Soh
    24/03/2018

    Lets be honest Pharmacy is legitimately a piece of crap career. The guild are a bunch of greedy muppets. I honestly cannot stand their bullshit comments, creating a narrative whereby us pharmacists should be thankful to be paid a pitiful wage. They can get f*cked. Anyone with half a brain would have an exit strategy from pharmacy by now.

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