‘This is a pay cut that’s courtesy of the Pharmacy Guild.’

Scene outside the Fair Work Commission

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

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  1. William

    It is no surprise that the Union is bleating about the decision to rationalise rates as their argument before the Fair Work Commission did not succeed. They should remember that the Fair work Commission was established under the previous Labor Government and stacked with unionists. It shows how weak the union case was that such a commission did not swallow their case.

    Unions only agree with decisions if they go their way.

    Pharmacists need to remember that they are little more than dressed up shopkeeper (many these days do not even dress up) these days which has been obvious for the last 20 odd years..

    The comment cited ““When we go into universities and speak to the pharmacists there, they’re shocked at the current state of pay in pharmacy,” reflects badly on these said students who should have researched such rates prior to enrolment.

    • Emmanuel Mahlis

      Not true my friend
      That is offensive
      Many of us have achieved great benefits for our communities.
      Think about what you can contribute and then see if you can build capacities and build business and profits from nothing more than your skills and knowledge. Then ask your boss for a salary package.
      If you are very good or excellent pharmacist find an owner with a great mind not a small mind. What you give you should receive back!
      Every profession needs contributors to build its framework and offer real value.

  2. Anil Verma

    Keep in my mind ” Pharmacy Guild is an Employers organisation” would see the interests of its members only. Any wage cut, or location rules or anything that benefits its members will always be welcomed by the Guild.
    History tells us everything, its right time, those who truly believe in the profession not just for the hand full of community pharmacies stand up and do their bit, write or email Health Minister what you think is anticompetitive or things that effects you as a pharmacist, or perhaps send a signed petition to Federal Health Minister with a copy to Opposition leader Hon Bill Shorten to express your frustration, tell them how anything including ” Location rules are anticompetitive and affecting those who would like to start up new pharmacy.
    Sequence of chats or social media chats prove nothing.
    So please take a stand, talk to your fellow workers or student groups but make sure please write to the Federal Health Minister with copy to Opposition leader also.

    • Amandarose

      I like location rules and it helps keep actual health services and holds the warehouses back who will kill pharmacy like they have in the U.K. This in turns reduces competition long term and leads to unprofessional businesses exploiting patients,

  3. Tim Hewitt

    Sour grapes from PPA/APESMA, once again FAILING their members by not winning the argument.. how come its the Guilds’ supposed ‘win’ that they are upset about not their big FAIL? They obviously stuffed up, were unable to convince Fair Work of their case, and now want to blame someone else.. nothing like poor losers..

    • Ronky

      They failed, but at least they tried. What did you do to help?

    • Amandarose

      A union is only as good as its members- we need higher membership to have any power. Right now the onus of the government pushing down prices of PBS medications means they ar more likely to support lower washes as it reduces how much they pay pharmacies.
      This is not a win for owners – not for the Guild who have just called them selves retailers not health professionals cheapening the perception and value in pharmacy. They save a bit on shop staff short term but the damage to our image is cemented into future agreements.
      Pharmacists – who to be honest work mainly above the award for flat rates of pay or demand certain pay for weekends anyway. But again it cheapens our perception as professionals and we are tired of the decade with pay decreases while our cost of living goes up.
      The on,y winners are your discount chemists who are basically supermarkets with a dispensary slapped in to draw in buyers.
      They are the winners with cheap staff and little reliance on the PBS to make a buck.

    • Joh Bou-Samra

      Two parties representing one profession yet so polarised in their agendas. No wonder our profession is going down the gurgler.

    • Emmanuel Mahlis

      We lose too as owners as we offer no alternative.
      Paying workers well creates better businesses.
      Give me a good worker wanting to contribute and grow and I will pay them more than award and more than penalty as the return on that investment is exponential.
      This situation should not be about win or lose it’s about everyone being treated fairly.
      I believe award rates and penalties are old hat and does not reflect modern society or modern values.
      Enterprise bargaining is best way forward.
      Award rates should be minimum paid to inexperienced young professionals. But major players should be acknowledged with salary packages. What you give is what you get back !

  4. Joh Bou-Samra

    If we actually had a professional body that represented ALL pharmacists our profession would be far better off. How can we have the Guild – who only represents owners lobbying for professional services payments and at the same time lobbying for lower wages??? We have NO unity so we will fall.
    “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.”
    In case you’re wondering…. I have owned a pharmacy so I am not ignorant to business pressures. But I don’t think that a group of owner representatives should be the one that negotiates for payment for professional services. There’s too much conflict of interest.
    I hate to admit this and never thought I’d say it, but maybe we would be better off with no actual pharmacies – just owned by supermarkets; and pharmacists paid directly for professional services by the government.

    • Emmanuel Mahlis

      What a fatalistic view which undermines all hard working pharmacy owners. Everyone is missing the point. Profits are down. “Full stop”. To rebalance and recgenerate more profits to keep jobs we need to rethink pay rates. We no longer live in the 1960s where penalty rates protected family pot roast Sundays. We don’t have price regulation.
      Larger corporates are taking market share. Many will be forced to close on Sunday.

      If you work on a Sunday more likely you have Monday and or Tuesday off . Or you are doing 6,7 day working week trying to pay off your personal HECS or first home!
      Why not ask your boss and negotiate a salary package? Offer him/her a reason to pay you reasonably more if you are contributing and assisting with building capacities and profits.
      There is nothing stopping workers to negotiate salary packages. Moving away from pay rates is a positive way of getting away from penalty rates and a good compromise.
      Sometimes you could earn more if you are a high performer and major contributor.
      You could be better off. And you should be!!
      Especially if you are a high performer and contributor to the business and services.
      Penalty means many different things to different people.
      Originally a penalty was against the owner of the business where he had the need to employ a worker during traditional family or worker after hour times.
      In a 24/7 world , a penalty in this sense has lost its significance. I recommend salary packages. Ask your employer what they want and if expectations can be met on both sides. Why not? At least we attempt to create better more equitable outcomes and attitudes for all.
      Whether we give away ownership or not that will not change a thing! It is more likely to make things worse for workers, as larger corporates will reduce pay rates to a bare minimum and will be profit driven only- refer to USA style drug stores.
      What we should all be doing is accepting change and adapt; we must work together to reinvent the pharmacy business model. Making it more profitable so we can offer higher salaries. And!
      To be paid more by Medicare we must offer more benefits to patients and deliver better healthcare outcomes. Remember
      Most pharmacy owners are paying off large bank loans and being an owner is a high pressure job with large responsibilities.
      We need employee support and it’s team work. An honest fair transparent approach always creates a win win situation. Salaried pharmacists depending on years of experience, junior to senior, dispensary to manager salaries can range from $70,000 up to $100,000 plus, depending on the store business profits and turnover, I urge everyone to think outside the square!

      • John Cook

        US Pharmacists are paid on average AUD $165,000 per year. Deregulation is not as bad as you paint it

        • Emmanuel Mahlis

          Yeah but these pharmacists are highly trained in administration and have a DPharm. I would pay anyone the same to operate my pharmacies if they were that highly advanced in all areas of administration and management .
          Plus these pharma it’s are in Walmart have larger numbers in their company and they employ fewer pharmacists.
          You are also run off your feet with contracts that expect you to be 24/7.
          You don’t get paid this amount of money just for being a good pharmacists. Over there you probably would have an MBA along with your DPharm.
          It’s a totally different ball game.
          All I can see are people wanting more without putting in. All pharmacy owners have borrowed money to buy a pharmacy and like taxi drivers work 24/7 worrying about all aspects of owning a business and being a professional healthcare worker.
          If you want more money you need to accept the high level of responsibility and headaches. Plus you need to have the necessary skills and capability. Or go and take the risk and buy your own pharmacy, see what it’s like then come back and let us know if you still feel the same way.
          Or go to the USA and work for a corporate who will EXPECT you to PERFORM something most pharmacists don’t understand how easy they still have it here in Australia.
          Over in the USA you must deliver and it is high expectations.
          In summary, if you want significant improvements in work conditions you must contribute to this change. In a positive way.
          The Guild has every right to protect its members interest. The members have a lot more to lose than you do!!
          Having said that many owners are generous and offer salary packages to employees. If they are worth it.

  5. Jim Tsaoucis

    by definition our remuneration for pbs will decrease because the cost base re pharmacists wages has now decreased…..what a mess

  6. Owner

    No this is a failure of the employee pharmacists. You get what you negotiate not what you deserve. Pharmacy has been fleeced and you are all having a cry with your nickers around your ankles? Fool and his money….

  7. BB

    hahaha It is definitely time to leave this profession. Even pharmacy “representatives” do things that really only interest them and discourage other pharmacy workers, how can I really trust them and feel “protected” as being a pharmacist??? but thanks to them, they helped me to realize how this “profession” really is like and now I am definitely going to leave this bs profession. well not really profession, just a business shop just like coles and woolies

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