In the end, having labors laws for pharmacists hasn’t solved the root problems that face pharmacists today. Look to Alberta for your example.
Editor's note: The below was submitted to us without any edits.
The province of Ontario has taken the important step of seeking pharmacists’ feedback on whether or not they think that they should continue to be exempted from the province’s labor standards code. The Ontario College of Pharmacists (OCP) and the Ontario Pharmacists’ Association (OPA) have conducted surveys to understand the views of pharmacists on whether they should be entitled to basic worker rights including mandated rest periods, meal periods, overtime pay, statutory pay, and more.
Current legislation does not require employers to offer any of these rights to pharmacist employees, and as the pharmacy environment has changed dramatically over the past decade, there has been concern that these exemptions are no longer relevant to current practice and, in fact, present dangers to both pharmacists and patients due to the exploitation of pharmacist staff.
Many pharmacists brought their concerns to light, as demonstrated through the over 300 comments submitted to the OCP by pharmacists and the public, with the vast majority of these submissions demonstrating support for these exemptions being removed.
However, the question remains as to whether or not these changes will help or harm the pharmacy profession? Or-perhaps less often discussed- will it change anything at all?
I am a pharmacist from Toronto, ON, but I now live and work in Alberta. I had started my career working as a relief pharmacist for a big pharmacy chain and, in the beginning, I had the opportunity to eat a lunch. I closed the pharmacy or I would go into the back of the pharmacy to eat when there was pharmacist overlap.
Three months into the job, when the corporation stopped closing for lunches and had removed pharmacist overlap at many of its stores, effectively getting rid of lunches/breaks for pharmacists, I wasn’t surprised. I had assumed it was bound to happen, anyways. This had already become the norm in Ontario and I expected it would follow here since, we as pharmacists, are exempt from labor laws.
What I didn’t know was that pharmacists were, in fact, not exempt from these rights in Alberta.
So why was it that many pharmacists were not receiving these rights at their workplace? I decided to ask around, and what I discovered was unsettling. While I’ve dealt with lost lunches myself, many other pharmacists face additional challenges at work including long shifts with no overtime pay and no statutory pay.
When I asked whether they had discussed their concerns with their employers or contacted the labor board, most said they were afraid of being reprimanded or of losing their jobs in an already saturated job market. Others were worried that their wages would go down to accommodate their breaks. Many others simply were unaware of our rights, just as I was, and they had just expected that their employers would respect these rights if the law required them to do so. They did not. I noticed a sense of hopelessness among my colleagues and little trust that pharmacy employers or the government would alleviate their concerns.
In the end, having labors laws for pharmacists hasn’t solved the root problems that face pharmacists today.
Look to Alberta for your example. While some employers adhere to the laws, others have banked on keeping pharmacists in line through fear of unemployment and decreased wages. While I believe it is important to have laws in place to protect pharmacists’ rights so that we have legal recourse if those rights are abused, I don’t think that will lead to the change we need unless we stand up for ourselves.
As long as we undercut one another and accept less from our profession, we will continue to be taken advantage of by those invested in the profits of pharmacy instead of the pharmacy profession itself. We need to respect ourselves and not give in to desperation. If we can all commit to that, then we’ll be on better footing to advocate for what we want and deserve.
Note from Editor: If you are a pharmacist in Alberta and have a comment, please contact us directly (click the Share Your Story button at the top)
You can also read another guest opinion piece here: be-careful-what-you-wish-for.html
For More Information on Alberta's Labour Laws: