The decision to cut penalty rates for pharmacists could have significant flow-on effects for the sector and for patient outcomes
So says Matt Harris, national campaign manager for Professional Pharmacists Australia, who slammed the Pharmacy Guild following the Fair Work Commission’s announcement on Thursday that it would slash penalty rates.
Sunday rates for full-time workers have been reduced from double time to time-and-a-half, while for casual workers rates have been cut from double-time to time-and-three-quarters.
“There’s already signs of enormous strain on the profession, and we see many young pharmacists with huge potential leaving the profession,” Mr Harris told the AJP today.
“When we go into universities and speak to the pharmacists there, they’re shocked at the current state of pay in pharmacy, and really do reconsider their career options.
“This continues that trend.”
Stakeholders had already warned, particularly in submissions to the King Review, that pharmacists would leave the profession due to existing poor pay rates.
“If the minimum wage for a pharmacist is not lifted, there will be a mass exodus of bright young pharmacists who will flock to better careers, and the Australian public will be much worse off for it,” one submission predicted. “I believe this has already begun.”
Mr Harris says patients could also ultimately be affected.
“If you continue to undervalue the work that pharmacists do, it’s going to have an impact on the profession and how attractive the profession is going to be into the future – and that’s going to have an impact on outcomes in the system,” he says.
And he strongly criticised the Guild for showing “disrespect” to employee pharmacists.
“The Guild had a choice,” he says. “They didn’t have to join this case to slash penalty rates. They made an active decision to disrespect the work of thousands of hard-working pharmacists, and today’s the result of their work.
“This is a pay cut that’s courtesy of the Pharmacy Guild.
“It’s an extraordinary contrast, when you consider that the Guild is talking to the Government about the important and vital role that pharmacists play in our health system, and what they do for patients each and every day – and then when they’re talking to the Fair Work Commission, it’s a different story. It’s a story about retail, and those objectives around health seem to disappear.”
Mr Harris pointed out that representatives of employers of other essential workers, such as nurses, firefighters and police, did not lobby to have penalty rates cut.
“This will affect a large number of pharmacists who are on the award working for discounters like Chemist Warehouse,” he says.
“So I hope that Chemist Warehouse has sent a thankyou note to the Guild today.”
He says that as the role of community pharmacists evolves and more professional services are introduced, employee pharmacists are “being expected to do more and more, and be paid less and less”.
“This decision will result in a transfer of funds in community pharmacy that once were given to employee pharmacists, and which will now go into the pockets of pharmacy owners,” he says.
“It’s a low road strategy that can only end in tears.”
Within minutes of the decision being handed down, the Australian Council of Trade Unions had launched a petition to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, urging him to “protect the pay of weekend workers”.
Organisations representing other affected industries – such as United Voice, which represents hospitality, health and aged care workers – were also quick to criticise the decision.
United Voice said that, “the decision to cut the weekend and public holiday penalty rates of hospitality, retail, fast food and pharmacy workers could affect millions of working families who cannot afford a cut to their pay.”
Image: Matt Harris