LEADING Brisbane pharmacy chain Malouf Group Pharmacies has slammed the Federal Government’s introduction of Sunday loading as not just hurting pharmacists, but also the health of Australians by reducing medical access.

Malouf Group CEO Stuart McBrien, says the Fair Work reforms could cost in excess of $15,000 per pharmacy annually, depending on the location and opening hours.

“It can only result in a decrease in opening hours and that’s the only way we can make ends meet. Right now we’re stuck between a rock and a hard place,” says McBrien.

“We get no extra revenue by opening on a Sunday but this policy will increase the costs of employment significantly – it means less employment and less service to the public.

“After hours pay for doctors is obviously significant as they can charge through the Medicare system, but there’s nothing like that for pharmacists after hours.”

McBrien says while the changes will threaten the health of all customers, they will affect rural pharmacies significantly.

“Our concern is if someone needs medicine on a Sunday – let’s say a two-year-old gets an ear infection, goes to see the GP Sunday morning, gets a script and needs it filled. The consequence of the policy is that there is no incentive to open on Sunday for trade as many pharmacies would run at a loss on those days,” he says.

“One of the great things about the PBS (Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme) is that all Australians are treated equally with regards to access, but with these changes the Government is affecting that model.

“City pharmacies subsidise rural pharmacies – we’re comfortable with that as we have both and I think the whole industry is comfortable with that – but as the government tightens the screws with regulation and changes, it threatens the viability of fair medical prices for all, and this will really hurt rural pharmacies.”

The Australian Retailers Association (ARA) has also called on the Federal Government for three months leeway for SMEs to adapt to the Fair Work reforms.

ARA Executive director Russell Zimmerman, says many SMEs need time to ‘get their heads around these changes’ and so far the government has been open in communication about cooperating with small businesses.

The ARA is running four webinars about the new Fair Work reforms in January to inform and equip retailers for major industrial relations changes.

"It is critical retail employers operating in both metropolitan and regional areas are prepared for the new workplace laws to avoid penalties for non-compliance. This is now particularly important for sole-traders, partnerships and unincorporated bodies where state industrial relations laws (all states except WA) have been referred to the national industrial relations system," says Zimmerman.

The Rudd Government has been shopping its new laws around the country with its Fair Work Week. Yesterday, Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard visited Linfox in Sydney to showcase the new workplace relations system.

The Deputy PM says nationally almost 4000 awards and industrial instruments have been reduced to 122 modern, simple awards and reduced around 197, 000 pages of regulation to 5753 pages.

New research released recently estimates that the national system will save the Australian economy around $4.8 billion over the next decade.

The analysis, conducted by Access Economics on behalf of the government, found that moving to a single national workplace relations system for the private sector will reduce compliance costs and increase productivity.

Brisbane’s SME sector is not totally convinced.

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