Penalty rates debate reaches critical point

hourglass and coins - MA expresses PBS cuts concerns

Pharmacy owners and employee pharmacists dig in their heels as Fair Work Commission’s decision on review of weekend penalty rates draws near

The commission, which began the review in 2014, is expected to make its decision next month.

One of the main claims that underpins attempts to cut penalty rates for Sunday workers in the retail sector is that they are no longer needed or relevant.

On behalf of its members, the Pharmacy Guild of Australia put in a submission to the review to have the Pharmacy Industry Award amended to reflect the following in relation to Sunday work:

  1. The current 100% loading for permanent employees be replaced by a 50% loading
  2. The current 125% loading for casual employees be replaced by a 50% loading

“The Guild’s position is that penalty rates for Sunday are too high,” a spokesperson told the AJP.

“Communities expect their pharmacies to be open at weekends, and preferably open seven days a week. To achieve this, the industry needs realistic penalty rates so that pharmacies can afford to open at these times,” they said.

While the spokesperson said the Guild recognises the “traditional family value of Sundays” – which is why the day should still attract a higher rate than Saturday – it did not deserve the current rate.

“The important factor never to lose sight of is that when assessing the appropriate remuneration that the pharmacy professional remains viable and sustainable moving forward,” they said.

Professional Pharmacists Australia vehemently disagrees with the Guild.

“PPA rejects that the solution to pharmacy’s problems is to further reduce pay,” a spokesperson told AJP.

“The Guild’s push for lower wages in community pharmacy is at odds with their apparent support for an expansion of professional services.

“We support expanding the role of pharmacists, but this should lead to better pay, not worse,” they said.

“Cuts to penalty rates will harm the pharmacy profession; it will widen a gap in working conditions between employee pharmacists and other health professionals,” PPA President Dr Geoff March told AJP eight months ago.

“Wages growth is at a record low, and pharmacists, like most employees, can’t afford a pay cut,” he said.

However the Guild believes times have moved on, and wages should reflect the modernisation of the working week.

“The historical justification for the imposition of penalty rates emerged out of social norms and behaviours established in Victorian times,” the group wrote in its review submission.

“The standard working week for a full-time employee was much longer (e.g. 46 hours per week in 1921) but has gradually reduced over time to 38 hours per week as a result of the introduction of tighter working time restrictions.

“Weekend penalty rates (along with the reduction of standard working hours and overtime rates) arose out of the social policy objective of reducing working hours and encouraging working people to recuperate and engage in activities outside work,” it said.

What do you think about Sunday penalty rates?


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