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Australian optical dispenser wages in spotlight amid awards pay increase

A rising percentage of employees are being paid above award rates in Australian optical practices.

Optical dispensers and other front-of-house staff being paid award minimum wages have received a pay rise recently, however a new industry survey shows practice support staff are increasingly been paid above minimum rates.

As part of the Annual Wage Review 2022-23, the Fair Work Commission increased the national minimum wage to $882.80 per week or $23.23 per hour while award minimum wages increased by 5.75%, effective 1 July 2023.

April Petrusma, ODA.Optical Dispensers Australia (ODA) CEO Ms April Petrusma said it was becoming more common for employers to pay optical dispensers above the award – with employers recognising the need for long term employee retention.

But the award wage rise was good news for staff currently being paid under the General Retail Industry Award or the Health Professionals and Support Services Award – currently the two awards being applied across optometry practices for support staff.

Petrusma said it had become increasingly difficult to hire support staff in recent years, with some employers recognising this and offering attractive salary packages, with training opportunities and career longevity.

“If this was to become the norm, the optical dispensing profession would become more attractive to career seekers which would incentivise more people into joining the industry,” she said. In December 2022, ODA undertook a small survey of 130 practice support staff on behalf of Eyecare Recruitment. The findings indicated a lack of consistency across pay structures but highlighted what appears to be a rising percentage of employees being paid above award rates.

  • 34% were being paid between $45,000-$55,000

  • 32% were being paid between $56,000-$65,000

  • 34% were being paid between $66,000-$96,000 +

“When considering a salary package, the employer really should consider the role the employee is undertaking and the tasks they perform. The renumeration should be consistent with their level of experience, skill set and job requirements,” Petrusma said, noting that ODA plans to run a broader survey in future.

“Qualified optical dispensers and practice managers that are performing tasks above and beyond the minimum – such as frame buying, edging and fitting, looking after accounts, troubleshoot dispensing etc – should not be paid at a minimum rate and certainly should not be defined as performing ‘general retail’ duties.”

Petrusma said employers also needed to consider that, on average in Australia, the cost to recruit and hire a new employee currently hovers around $23,000, according to the HR Industry Benchmark Survey Australia and New Zealand.

“Therefore, it becomes quite obvious that a well-paid, rewarded optical dispenser will not only bring revenue into the practice, but in the long term, will essentially cost less than having to re-hire and re-train new team members.”

For practice staff already being paid above award wage rates, the 5.75% does not apply to them. It only applies to those being paid the minimum required by law.

Petrusma noted there is no single award named for optical dispensers and optical assistants in Australia. It is up to the employer to determine the most relevant (General Retail Industry Award or the Health Professionals and Support Services Award) to match the employee’s role and nominate it in the contract of employment.

“The general stance of ODA and the wider industry is to follow the advice set by Optometry Australia in relation to award coverage for support staff employed within optometry practices both in a retail and practice setting,” she said.

“During a meeting between Optometry Australia and the Fair Work Ombudsman in 2019, they were quite firm in their position that optometry practice support staff should be provided coverage under the Health Professionals and Support Services Award or above.”

This article was written by Myles Hume of Insight News. This article and other related titles can be found here.


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