Pharmacists employed at dozens of National Pharmacies sites across Victoria and South Australia have voted to take industrial action against the company’s plans to slash penalty rates.Pharmacists in Australia have voted to launch industrial action for the first time, starting Christmas Eve, as a national pharmacy chain moves to slash penalty rates.
It comes amid tense debate over a proposed Australia-wide rollback of Sunday penalty rates for workers in hospitality, retail and entertainment jobs, following an inquiry by the Productivity Commission.
Pharmacists employed at dozens of National Pharmacies sites across Victoria and South Australia will become the first in their profession to take action against an employer, as anger rises over threats to their penalty rates.
From Thursday, pharmacists will embark on a campaign against National Pharmacies, authorising strikes of up to 24 hours that could force the temporary closure of some sites if the deadlock continues. The campaign this week will begin with pharmacists refusing to perform a range of work duties.
National Pharmacies is attempting to cut pharmacists’ penalty rates by as much as 50 per cent for certain hours on Saturday shifts. Double-time Sunday rates would remain in place.
The company also wants to lower overtime pay, freeze the wages of existing pharmacists and introduce a two-tiered pay scheme that would slash the wages of new employees, according to the union.
The union, Professional Pharmacists Australia, estimates the proposed cuts could trim new pharmacists’ pay cheques by up to $10,000 a year.
Union lead negotiator Sarah Andrews said pharmacists were taking a stand.
“Members are upset that they are being asked to accept cuts to their take-home pay,” Ms Andrews said.
“Nobody likes to take industrial action, but employee pharmacists feel that they have no other option but to make their voice heard.”
National Pharmacies said the pressures of a competitive and uncertain marketplace had forced a need to align with the rest of the industry.
“Among the areas that need to be aligned with the rest of the industry are penalty rates,” the company said.
“National Pharmacies is seeking to align penalty rates with the prevailing industry award, not below the award, which includes maintaining the 100 per cent Sunday penalty.”
The company said pharmacists’ base rates of pay, which were above the award, would also be maintained.
“The company is disappointed that enterprise agreement negotiations have failed to reach agreement, resulting in the proposed industrial action,” the statement said. “National Pharmacies reassures all customers that they can continue to rely on the normal high quality of service throughout any such action.”
According to wage data compiled by Graduate Careers Australia, pharmacy graduates are paid a median starting salary of $44,300, the equal lowest of all graduate salaries.
A union survey of 1000 pharmacists found the average hourly pay rate to be $35.
Ms Andrews said pharmacists employed by National Pharmacies were witnessing rising workloads, and the “deep cuts” proposed by the company would put its quality reputation at risk.
Nationwide Pharmacies operates 36 pharmacies in South Australia, 17 in Victoria, one in Western Australia and one in New South Wales.
Penalty rates have become a hot reform topic in Australia after the long-awaited release of a Productivity Commission report on Monday recommended cutting Sunday rates in line with lower Saturday pay.
Unions have vowed to wage a national campaign leading into the 2016 election, describing any penalty rate reduction as an attack on workers who deserve remuneration for sacrificing Sundays.
But employers will aggressively advocate for penalty rate reform, saying businesses struggle to open Sundays in a seven-day-a-week economy, and lowering the “excessive” labour costs would allow them to flourish and hire more staff.
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