Year in review: Pharmacist wages

2016 has been a big one in the battle for higher pay in pharmacy


The year began in turmoil as Victorian and South Australian pharmacists employed by National Pharmacies staged strikes in February, after enterprise negotiations failed to reach an agreement.

Fifty-three stores in both states were impacted by the stop-work with more than 100 employees starting their shifts an hour later than rostered – the first community pharmacists ever to take industrial action in Australia.

In June, these same pharmacists had successfully negotiated a new enterprise agreement with their employer, which guaranteed base rates of pay and several penalty rates would remain well above the industry award.

The biggest challenge of 2016

A survey of more than 1,500 PSA members in early March revealed that inadequate remuneration was the issue listed as “the most important challenge facing pharmacists today”.

Almost half of the respondents (48%) listed pay as the top issue, while 41% listed increased competition with discounted pharmacies.

In May, new data published in The Good Universities Guide 2016 indicated that graduates in pharmacy earned the lowest of all higher education graduates within the first several months of finishing their degrees.

It revealed the average starting salary for an intern pharmacist was $40,937 per annum, four months after finishing their degree – lower than starting salaries for those in creative arts, communications, tourism and hospitality, making it the lowest of all industries requiring higher education training.

At the PSA16 conference held in Sydney, a large panel discussion was hosted to discuss how to improve pharmacist remuneration.

Panellists George Tambassis, Rachel Dienaar, Michael Dooley, Geoff March, Taren Gill and Matthew Scott discussed how to create a sustainable model for pharmacy, commercialisation, professional services, pharmacists in general practice, and rural practice.

Pharmacists have their say

AJP readers had some scathing responses to the discussion on low pay, including Ex Pharmacist who suggested getting out of pharmacy entirely.

“I remember the beady greedy eyes of pharmacy owners that demanded more generic conversions, more “free” SMS reminder sign ups, more Interventions, more Med Checks, it’s ridiculous…,” wrote Ex Pharmacist.

“A pharmacy graduate with a $20,000 education bill will never be able to pay it off, raise a family, buy a safe car and a house on the current pharmacists’ wage,” said David Haworth.

“And every day they are asked to complete more new programs and services and told they must lift their game to compete.”

“The overly greedy cut-price pharmacies are destroying the fabric of a once proud industry,” said another reader.

King Review submissions in September were no more positive.

Community pharmacist employee said they could list multiple occupations that required cheaper and less education but offering higher salaries.

“Pharmacy remuneration and pharmacist remuneration is inadequate and inequitable,” they wrote.

“I entered the profession with optimism that I could help patients and have a fulfilling career, and I am sorely disappointed.”

The reaction to the state of pharmacist wages in mid-2016 was almost unanimous: pharmacists aren’t getting paid enough, and there’s enormous pessimism about the future of the profession.

Owners have their say

Employers had their say on the AJP in the second half of the year, explaining that several reasons were driving low wages.

Some owners told us that price disclosure was 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,” said 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 said.

Mark Browne from Amcal Max in Gympie in Queensland said the financial model in pharmacy is flawed.

“The current financial remuneration is pathetic. While the governments make short-sighted gestures to penny pinch, it is the innovation and the patients who miss out, for political gain. Retail pharmacy is hurting with 1000 pharmacies not earning wages.

“As an employer I am embarrassed at the low wages I have to pay my pharmacists as health professionals. However, when shop assistants earn almost as much as pharmacists there is seriously something wrong,” wrote Browne in his submission to the King Review.

Lifting the award rate

A survey of our readers had a clear answer on how to improve pay rates: Fair Work Australia needs to increase the award rate. This option netted 294 votes.

Close behind was that pharmacy schools need to reduce student places (255 votes), and pharmacists need to be paid for additional services (249 votes).

This year Professional Pharmacists Australia also put forward a case before the Fair Work Commission to lift award rates. The union is seeking an increase of up to 30% in award wages.

CWH in hot water

Meanwhile in December, Chemist Warehouse was forced to back pay almost 6,000 of its workers more than $3.5 million, due to non-payment of wages for compulsory training undertaken by staff outside of normal working hours.

Following a review of all online training, 294 stores operating under the Chemist Warehouse brand initiated back payment to 5,976 employees totalling $3,569,212.10.

CW Retail Services subsequently signed a Proactive Compliance Deed with the Fair Work Ombudsman on behalf of the franchise network.

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