Workers vs. Chemist Warehouse: The successful fight for more money and better working conditions

Getty: Chemist Warehouse
  • Workers at Chemist Warehouse will receive an immediate 8.75 per cent pay rise and over four years their salaries will increase by 18.75 per cent.
  • The agreement follows two weeks of strikes at Chemist Warehouse in Victoria and Queensland that have left stores with with empty shelves.
  • Chemist Warehouse has secured an estimated 25 per cent market share of the pharmaceutical retail market with what’s been dubbed the ‘Bunnings approach’.

Workers at Chemist Warehouse have won significant wage rises and an overhaul to the company’s labour practices after a two-week strike left the cut-price pharmaceutical retailers with empty shelves.

On Thursday, Chemist Warehouse and the National Union of Workers reached an agreement on a new enterprise agreement for Chemist Warehouse distribution centre workers in Victoria and Queensland.

According to a joint statement from the pharmaceutical retailer and the NUW, workers voted unanimously in favour of the agreement that will see all workers receive at least an extra 18.75 per cent in their wages over four years.

“At a time of serious wage stagnation, it’s great to see workers in their union collectively bargain for wage increases, secure jobs and respect at work,” NUW National Secretary Tim Kennedy said in the statement.

Chemist Warehouse director Damien Glance called it a “great outcome” for the business as well.

“Our people are critical to our success, and we have been able to achieve a balance between rewarding our current team and being able to continue to grow and offer more jobs opportunities,” he said.

Workers at Chemist Warehouse will receive an immediate 8.75 per cent pay rise and over four years their salaries will increase by 18.75 per cent, the NUW said. Forklift drivers and trainers will see approximately a 22.5 per cent increase over four years.

All casual labour hire workers who were on strike will get permanent jobs immediately, while casuals that worked through the strike will be able to become full-timers after six months.

It was alleged that Chemist Warehouse was paying workers at its distribution centres significantly less than its competitors and its workforce was much more casual.

Chemist Warehouse, privately owned by the BRW Rich Lister Verrocchi and Gance families in Victoria, has secured an estimated 25 per cent market share of the pharmaceutical retail market with what’s been dubbed the ‘Bunnings approach’, due to its large warehouse spaces, discount prices and heavy marketing.

The company attracted customers by cutting prices, sometimes aggressively, on non-PBS subsidised medicines behind the counter. Chemist Warehouse also created a successful ‘front of shop’ offering with large numbers of non-prescription products done in a ‘supermarket-style’ setup.

Chemist Warehouse has also expanded rapidly thanks to its ownership structure and franchise agreements that allow it to get around industry regulations on pharmacy ownership.

The company entered into a compliance agreement with the Fair Work Ombudsman in late 2016 after back-paying almost 6000 workers more than $3.5 million.

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