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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