Pharmacists ‘bitterly disappointed’ at paid leave decision


A leading pharmacist says the Fair Work decision shows a “complete lack of respect” for members of the profession

Last week, the AJP reported on the Fair Work Commission (FWC) decision in which it stated it was “not satisfied there is an elevated risk of infection for workers covered by the Pharmacy Award”.

Associate Professor Chris Freeman, president of the Pharmaceutical Society of Australia, has told AJP that the PSA is “bitterly disappointed with this decision from the Fair Work Commission, as it shows a complete lack of respect for pharmacists who have continued to show up day after day to treat their patients and the community during a pandemic”.

Several unions, including Professionals Australia/APESMA, had submitted that pharmacists were frontline workers who should be entitled to paid pandemic leave on multiple occasions.

The unions hoped for paid leave of up to two weeks for any employee faced with certain situations as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic: being required to self-isolate, while awaiting the results of a COVID-19 test, or while prevented from working by measures taken by Government or medical authorities in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Pharmacy Guild, meanwhile, had submitted that “there is no greater risk or chance that a person working in a community pharmacy would come into close contact with a person who is carrying COVID-19 than in any other retail environment, or in schools, clubs, hotels, food courts, cafes, restaurants, sports events, gyms, swimming pools, beauticians, hair dressers, or by visiting family or friends, undertaking interstate or intra-state travel, attending weddings or funerals or attending a workplace”.

The application for paid pandemic leave was refused, although the FWC ultimately adjourned the matter on the grounds that events around COVID-19 are moving swiftly and the situation could change.

Dr Freeman told AJP that the PSA believes pharmacists are still shouldering significant risk.

“Most pharmacists were and still are faced with situations where patients displaying symptoms of COVID-19 enter a pharmacy looking for assistance or medication which puts pharmacists and pharmacy staff at a higher risk of contracting COVID-19,” he said.

“While we note the ruling of the FWC, PSA vehemently disagrees with submissions that state there is no greater risk or chance that a person working in a community pharmacy would come into close contact with a person who is carrying COVID-19 than any other retail environment.

“As recognised frontline health professionals, pharmacists and pharmacy staff have remained on the frontline throughout the COVID-19 pandemic treating sick patients and even after being abused or attacked by some members of the public.”

The COVID-19 crisis continues to deepen in parts of the country, with Victoria reporting 270 cases in the last 24 hours as at Tuesday afternoon. Some of these cases were identified in aged care facilities.

According to the state’s chief health officer Brett Sutton, Victoria now has more than 1,800 active cases of the novel coronavirus.

Meanwhile NSW reported 13 new cases diagnosed in the 24 hours until 8pm on Monday night.

In Tahmoor, south-west of Sydney, a pharmacy employee tested positive to COVID-19 on Monday, and the pharmacy has now been closed for deep cleaning. It is not suggested that the worker had caught the coronavirus in the course of her employment.

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8 Comments

  1. Dr Evan Ackermann
    14/07/2020

    Can people see the absurdity of the pharmacy guild statement
    Pharmacy Guild submitted that “there is no greater risk or chance that a person working in a community pharmacy would come into close contact with a person who is carrying COVID-19 than in any other retail environment, or in schools, clubs, hotels, food courts, cafes, restaurants, sports events, gyms, swimming pools, beauticians, hair dressers, or by visiting family or friends, undertaking interstate or intra-state travel, attending weddings or funerals or attending a workplace”
    1. There is greater risk as a pharmacy would be a health establishment where unwell people conceivably congregate – proven by pharmacist infections
    2.Many of the activities mentioned by the Guild are indeed banned because of transmission risk

    See why the Guilds clinical opinions are not rated?

    • michael ortiz
      15/07/2020

      Hello Evan, It looks like someone did not do their homework on this one. Assuming that there were two Victorian community pharmacists who acquired COVID-19 at work and that 4000 people have acquired COVID-19 in Victoria. The infection rates are: Victorian Community Pharmacists (2/3000 = 0.67 per 1000) in the Victorian Population (4000 / 6500000 = 0.62 per 1000). That is, the Community Pharmacist infection rate would be no higher than the rate in the population.

      This doesn’t mean that pharmacists are not at increased risk, as they could have mitigated this risk by following social distancing and infection control practices. It would be interesting to compare the rates of COVID infection in other health professionals like doctors and nurses as well as other essential services like teachers, police and cleaners.

      • Steven J
        15/07/2020

        ‘Infection control practices’. This is a fantasy concept for most employee pharmacists. They have no say.

      • Dr Evan Ackermann
        15/07/2020

        Hi Michael – yes there is a difference to being exposed vs being infected.(your figures I will avoid for now). There is also the issue of responsible professional activity.
        eg If a pharmacist / doctor wakes one morning with a snotty nose and congestion – yes it is most likely their long term hay fever, but in this environ it has to be proven non-covid lest they precipitate another cluster.
        So a locum pharmacist or casual pharmacist, like GPs, who do the right thing and get tested rather than turn up to work, will forfeit at least 2 days pay whilst testing is done.
        ie they are being financially impaired for community benefit.

        I think there is a reasonable case here.

        • michael ortiz
          16/07/2020

          Hello Evan
          I agree with you that it would seem unfair for a casual employee to be denied income because they need to be tested and isolated simply because a co-worker has tested positive. From a public health perspective the worker should not be at work and yet they will not get paid if they don’t go to work.

          If they are to get paid for not working, then who should pay??? Workers need to be given the right messages and money needs to be found to pay any lost salary. If not, we can expect to see many more outbreaks across Australia. The cost the current Victorian outbreak alone could pay for the lost salaries many times over. Someone needs to show those in Authority the simple mathematics and then they need to respond with a suitable process to compensate those self-isolating.

          Do your RACGP contacts have details on the number of GPs with positive COVID-19 tests in Victoria? It would be interesting to assess the degree of increased risk by GPs in the pandemic. I think it is important that all health professionals work more closely if we are to extinguish the current outbreak in Victoria.

    • Pete
      15/07/2020

      The research has already been done in countries that have sufficient cases to actually make a determination. https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/04/occupations-highest-covid19-risk/ here the data shows pharmacists are mid range riisk (maybe 50%) the same as elementary teachers, police, medical secretaries. Less risky than almost all other health professions. Whether you have an anti guild stance like Ackerman or not – the data is already there. As to if that means we should get 2 weeks extra sick leave – sure, once those professions at greater risk get the same then it seems reasonable. Has that happened?

      • Kay Dunkley
        15/07/2020

        There are precedents in other industries for paid level if employees are required to self-isolate due to exposure to COVID-19 in the course of their work. For example in Victoria hospital medical officers have access to special leave:
        Where an employee is not required to self-quarantine (self-isolate) but is required to not attend work in accordance with Victoria’s Chief Health Officer’s advice – such as in the case of contact with a suspected case of coronavirus (COVID-19), the employee will be able to access paid Special Leave from their employer during the period they are
        required to not attend work. This includes an employee who was required to be tested for coronavirus (COVID-19) and is required to be absent from the workplace while awaiting the result of that test and who is otherwise well.

      • michael ortiz
        16/07/2020

        Hello Pete
        I understand the point you are trying to make here. However I don’t think that US statistics are appropriate in Australia. That being said, these numbers should be run in Australia. They only require the number of confirmed cases and the number of each profession in the population. The issue is the time interval from January or just the last 30 days and the location.(States vs Australia)

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