Pharmacy staff across South Australia and Victoria have gone for a first-ever strike after a months-long dispute over pay and working conditions.

The industrial protest on Tuesday has affected 53 National Pharmacies outlets, prompting around 100 employees to close shop for the first trade hour. The action is the first-ever pharmacists’ strike held in Australia. The move came following the National Pharmacies’ demand to cut Saturday penalty rates and introduction of a two-tier wage system, which the union thinks will lead to deteriorated payments for new joining pharmacists by $4 per hour.

Professional Pharmacists Australia campaign Director Matt Harris said that it has been the first time that pharmacists were halting work and protesting for their rights. This was the last option left with them. The pharmacists said that the authorities have given them a mere one percent pay increment and they have also cut penalty rates.

“It does seem very harsh,” Harris said as quoted by the ABC. “Pharmacists provide a really vital service in their communities but it’s also important that pharmacists get the respect, recognition and reward that they deserve for the important job that they do.”

Harris claimed that pharmacists were fighting for those who have the same qualification but were still paid less. “Slashing the hourly rate in the agreement for new employees might look like a superficial cost saving, but it will have a successively negative impact on workplace productivity, and the profession overall,” the Sydney Morning Herald quoted him as saying. “Graduate pharmacists see pay and conditions in their chosen profession declining and have real concerns about making ends meet and building a career.”

On the other hand, the National Pharmacies spokesman said the company was sorry for the inconvenience caused to the customers. He also claimed that staff members working with them have a better working condition than those working elsewhere.”National Pharmacies operates in a competitive and uncertain marketplace that includes changes to the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme and other Federal Government reforms in a tough competitive retail market,” the spokesman said.