The blame game

piggy bank, money and calculator

Who or what is responsible for the decrease in pharmacy wages? We take a look at the issue from all angles

Recently we covered the dissatisfaction that employee pharmacists are expressing regarding their wage rates.

AJP has spoken with a number of pharmacy owners to find out what they think is causing the drop in wages, and steps can be taken to solve the issue.

1. Many owners told us that price disclosure is pushing down remuneration, consequently limiting their ability to pay staff a decent wage.

They said the image of ‘greedy owners’ isn’t accurate – that they want to do more for their staff but their hands are tied under the current system, with pressures coming from all sides.

“As owners we want to pay pharmacists more,” says Mario Barone, who is part of the family operated Barone Pharmacy.

“At the end of the day we’re all pharmacists. But the government keeps pushing down our remuneration through price disclosure, and that gets passed on to the pharmacists and other staff.”

“There are also big box owners that are driving down wages,” he says.

“To improve the situation, the government needs to appropriately remunerate the work done by community pharmacy,” Barone tells AJP.

Cairns pharmacy owner Trent Twomey agrees that financial pressures are ever increasing for businesses.

“There are price pressures everywhere,” says Twomey.

“As pharmacy owners we have debt associated with our business, we have a highly trained workforce that we want to take care of, we have costs – electricity and rent – that are increasing more than the CPI.

“Would we like to do more for our patients? Yes. We would like to do more for our staff? Yes.

“But if the government doesn’t fix the PBS and increasing costs, then how can we do more?”

2. Owners have to bear the burden of training up pharmacy graduates that are exiting university lacking basic skills.

Intern pharmacists have told AJP that some of them are paid “so poorly” and supermarket staff earn more.

But Paul Jones, owner of Moodie’s Pharmacy in the central west NSW town of Bathurst, points out that universities are not preparing pharmacy graduates well enough and owners have to bear the costs of significant training.

“There’s an overall issue with variable quality in pharmacy. [Graduates] are not coming out job ready, particularly for professional services. So you need to put in more training, which leads to more costs.

“Price disclosure has also resulted in diminishing profits for pharmacy, and as a result, the ability to pay as much has changed.

“Training of pharmacy interns is subsidised by the private sector – pharmacy owners – as we have to pay to cover their internship year. 

“And yet in other health professions, such as medical graduates, if they take up an internship in a hospital for example, they are covered by the government.  Even hospital pharmacy interns are covered by the government.

“Why doesn’t the government pay us to train pharmacy interns, to make them better health care professionals?” asks Jones.

“Universities are putting out students with little or no practical experience of what community pharmacy is really like, particularly around the delivery of professional services, and as a result they are not job ready.

“If they were better trained, they would be more valuable in the workplace,” he says.

3. What does the Guild think about remuneration issues?

A spokesperson for the Pharmacy Guild of Australia reiterates that the 6CPA does not include any specific negotiation of employee pharmacist wages, and only focuses on remuneration for the dispensing of PBS medicines.

However, the organisation says it “will always strive for the highest level of support for community pharmacy through the agreements.”

Guild National President George Tambassis maintains the key to improving pharmacists’ remuneration lies in creating prosperous pharmacy businesses.

“A business that is viable, responsive, optimistic and able to adapt to changing business conditions will always be the best place to maintain and improve pharmacists’ incomes,” says Tambassis.

He adds that the Guild is working to make pharmacies “more viable and prosperous” by broadening revenue streams beyond CPA funding, through professional services programs such as Health Advice Plus.

4. What you said

What have AJP readers had to say on the issue? Some placed the blame of price disclosure and lowered remuneration directly on the Guild.

“The Guild accepted a pay cut from the Govt. ie lower margins and price disclosure etc on PBS and now businesses are crying poor and are “making” pharmacist staff pay for it through lower penalty rates and a basic award,” says JimT.

He adds that the PBS remuneration package is based on the “pathetic pharmacist award, hence lies one of the problems. For the pharmacist award to be better then PBS has to pay more … bit like what came first, the chicken or the egg?”

United we stand brings up the same issue.

“In the mid-90s, research was conducted by the Guild on how long it would take for a pharmacist to dispense a prescription. Dispensing was described as printing the label for the box as well as checking for drug interactions, allergies and providing patient counselling.

“Their data found that this takes on average close to five minutes per medication. They then fed this data into the dispensing fee calculations and used a pharmacist award wage to justify the $$$ they negotiated with the government.

“Raising a pharmacist’s wage would certainly allow the Guild to request a higher dispense fee. It’s not even an argument,” they say.

“Unless Government funding increases, wages will not rise,” argues Big John.

Ex retail Pharmacist says: “The Guild has always had the approach that the government will have to pay more before the pharmacist get paid more. The government approach is the direct opposite.

“I left retail pharmacy in 2000s after 26 years as a pharmacy owner as I could see the impact generics would have on remuneration and the super profit clawback by the government and took a significant pay cut to join the government as a pharmacist – it was gamble that paid off as I at least earn a living salary.

“Why anyone would spend the money time an effort to be a pharmacist today is a mystery.”

“If you think things are bad now wait until supermarkets get a foot in the door,” they say.

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  1. JimT

    It appears that the King Review won’t or can’t help in respect of Pharmacist awards and conditions either as it’s outside it’s “terms of reference”. It’s not like we are an insignificant part of the system!!

  2. peter

    oversupply of graduates and pharmacy schools are also putting downward pressure on pharmacy wages. simple supply and demand. why would an owner hire someone for $40 p/hour when another fresh grad with hecs to pay off and 5 years opportunity cost down the drain is desperate enough to accept $25 an hour.

    • BlinkyBill

      Peter, those that accept the 25/hr are naive kids living with their parents or simply desperate international students. This is the bulk of CWH’s workforce and have an eloborate ‘intern training’ program to entice these naive kids. Recently they jacked it upto ’27’ an hour after experiencing a shortage… makes you wonder why :b They also got their psa show-pony xavier to convince these awakening interns to work for that dismal and disgusting supermarket rate. The security guards at the chemist gets the same rate! Only he didn’t have to study 5 years for it… Absolutely appalling…

  3. Ex-Pharmie

    Paul Jones has lost the plot as a typical “small business owner” – you want government to subsidise the cost of a pharmacist in training at your place of business? Where you sell nail polish and tissue boxes in conjunction with your healthcare advice? No – governments cover the cost of their interns (in public hospitals) because the government pays public hospital wages.
    Private business pays staff wages, so you pay the valuable pharmacist intern working your register what the award demands!

  4. Simon O'Halloran

    At the end of the day patients pay the wages (as a function of PBS income, associated retail sales, professional services etc). If you don’t have patients, you don’t have income. If you are not 100% dedicated to patient focused care as an owner or employed pharmacist then maybe its time for a wake up call.

  5. Willy the chemist

    I am a pharmacist and an owner. I’m also a Guild member. So I’m one of the “greedy owners”.
    I strongly believe that pharmacist award rate has to begin at $30/hour.
    As a profession, we are so underpaid for the job we do. We saves lives, prevent unnecessary hospitalisations and improves quality of lives yet often we have to justify this or that.
    Imagine not knowing how much you are going to be paid for doing an intervention and only getting paid up to 3 months in arrears? Sometimes it could be $5.50 other times it’s $1.92. Which profession turns up to work charging $2 for a job? Would a lawyer? Would a financial planner? Or a lawyer? What about a Polly? Or plumber when they turn up to replace a washer?

    • Taffy

      I’m with you Willy, I’m a guild member who owns a small pharmacy and I’d like the award rate higher. A starting point of $30 for a new pharmacist with the aim of getting it to $35 over a few years. Would be good for the profession, and good for competition. But we also need to work on the oversupply and quality of the grads coming through if they are going to be paid this. I remember talking to my optometrist last year about Locum rates, and he has to pay $60hr to get someone. And not meaning to be disrespectful but his job is a lot less stressful. But realistically that’s what decent experienced pharmacists should be getting paid.

  6. Willy the chemist

    Further on, I’d like to know how much some of these supposedly experts like Prof. King is being paid to review. Or successive Chairpersons of ACCC or unionist heads when they make decisions that ripple throughout the country. Do they consider the gamut of outcomes or rather just pushing politically correct “bucket” truths? I know most experts make decisions about industries that they may or may not be experienced in because they do not and will not suffer ramifications from the decisions.

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