Australia’s largest pharmacy chain has been accused of shortchanging staff while creating a “toxic culture” of sexual harassment, bullying and job insecurity.
Workers at discount pharmacy juggernaut Chemist Warehouse – which bills itself as “Australia’s cheapest chemist” – began an “indefinite strike” on Tuesday, accusing the multibillion-dollar family-owned company of underpaying permanent and casual staff by about 25 per cent compared to the industry standard.
As many as 800 workers at three of the firm’s major distribution centres in Victoria and Queensland are refusing to return to work until demands for better wages and conditions, secure jobs and “respect: an end to the toxic culture of bullying and harassment” are met.
“Chemist Warehouse relies on broken rules to keep workers in insecure work – about 70 per cent of staff in distribution warehouses are labour hire casuals,” an online petition set up by workers read.
“Workers are afraid to speak out for fear of losing shifts. The workplace culture is toxic, with many of us facing bullying, intimidation and sexual harassment.”
The strike is expected to cause shortages of some products, but medications will not be affected.
‘Corporate greed gone crazy’: Sally McManus
Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) secretary Sally McManus condemned the company’s practice of using casual labour hire workers with few rights and low pay over permanent staff in an address to protesters outside the firm’s Preston warehouse on Tuesday.
“This is part of the reason why we’ve got such low wages in our country, because employers can use casual work and labour hire as a means of keeping wages low,” Ms McManus said.
Ms McManus criticised the families behind the dollar discount pharmacy empire for amassing vast sums of money while workers struggled with insecure jobs and low pay.
“One of the reasons why they are billionaires is because of all of the workers here at the warehouse,” she said.
This is an example of corporate greed gone crazy.”
Ms McManus also condemned the firm for failing to address sexual harassment in the warehouse.
“The issue of sexual harassment in this place here is outrageous, and the fact that this employer refuses to take action against it says it all,” Ms McManus said.
It means they are not treating you like human beings, with the dignity that you deserve as people.
“Instead of taking action and making this a safe site, what do they do with the labour hire workers? They keep moving them on to other sites. It is unacceptable.”
From discount chemist to Australia’s rich list
Chemist Warehouse has previously drawn criticism for the aggressive tactics that underpin its low-cost model, which some say undercut local pharmacists.
Growing at “a rapid rate”, Chemist Warehouse now has more than 300 stores across Australia, attributing its success to “aggressive pricing and larger volumes of trade”, according to the company’s website.
The chain was founded by Melbourne pharmacist Jack Gance and business associate Mario Verrocchi in 1973.
The pair established the My Chemist Retail Group, which owns the Chemist Warehouse and My Chemist chains.
In 2018, Mr Gance ranked 93 on the Australian Financial Review’s rich list with a wealth of $813 million.
Mr Verrocchi followed in 94th place with an estimated wealth of $803 million.
My Chemist Retail Group makes “at least $100 million in annual profits”, the AFR said.
The New Daily contacted Chemist Warehouse for comment but did not receive a response.