Thousands of qualified pharmacists and shop assistants working in chemists face being locked into a WorkChoices-style job contract for five years and missing out on an award pay rise worth thousands of dollars a year say unions.

The move by the NSW Pharmacy Guild would effectively cut the pay and conditions and rights of thousands of workers in the industry, including many young people working in local chemists.

Compared to the new modern award for the industry, a  typical pharmacist would be almost $2500 a year worse off under the proposed contract due to reduced penalty rates and the loss of some allowances.

It is a further sign of an unethical push by major employers, including in the hotels and mining sectors, to take advantage of the last gasp of WorkChoices before the new Fair Work Act takes effect on 1 July, says the ACTU.

“The attempt by the NSW Pharmacy Guild to impose a five-year agreement on pharmacists is a stark example of unscrupulous employers that are trying to squeeze the last bitter drops out of the WorkChoices lemon before new laws come into operation,” said ACTU Secretary Jeff Lawrence.

“Some extreme elements of the business community – including the Pharmacy Guild – are also running misleading scare campaigns about award modernisation, including false claims about the impact on jobs.

“This is unethical behaviour by employers that ignores the spirit of the new Fair Work laws, which encourage good faith collective bargaining and recognise the rights of workers to join and be represented by their union.”

The employer-group, NSW Pharmacy Guild, is pushing workers to approve the new job contract, the Multi Business Agreement (MBA), which attempts to avoid paying improved benefits available under a new award that will soon apply to the industry.

The contract would also take away many current rights and entitlements for pharmacy workers and allow employers to avoid obligations under the Fair Work laws which take effect from next month.

Chris Walton, the CEO of pharmacists’ union, the Association of Professional Engineers, Scientists and Managers, Australia (APESMA), said the Guild’s proposed job contract would leave NSW pharmacists trailing behind their counterparts in Victoria.

He said they should vote no to the agreement and seek professional advice about any attempts by their employer to alter their terms of employment so close to the introduction of a new award.