Boots pharmacists pay talks at ACAS begin on 18 November

The final stage of the 2021 pay talks for pharmacists at Boots begins on 18 November after no agreement could be reached by the two parties.

Thu 11th November 2021 PDA Union

The pay talks reached dispute as the company want to give most pharmacists only a 2% pay increase, with some pharmacists receiving more, but this was rejected by the bargaining unit of pharmacists. The company claim their total offer is worth more than 3% and the PDA are asking for a fair and equal percentage increase to all pharmacists.

After Boots pharmacists rejected the sub-inflation increase this year, the media reported that an official Boots spokesperson claimed that the pay offer was “substantial” and that “Over the course of the last five years, we have awarded overall pay rises to our pharmacists that have exceeded the consumer price index.”  The PDA publicly disputed this claim, pointing out that in months of talks the Boots negotiators had readily accepted the fact that pharmacists’ pay had lost its purchasing power over successive years, as evidenced in the pay claim. The PDA challenged Boots to correct the statement by the anonymous company spokesperson or alternatively put supporting data into the public domain so that pharmacists could see the facts for themselves. The company have done neither.

What about bonuses?

It would seem the company has since tried to suggest that discretionary bonuses have somehow improved pharmacists’ pay over recent years. Pay is contractual. If an individual’s pay is increased it increases future overtime rates, pensions, sickness and redundancy pay calculations (if needed) and forms the basis for further pay reviews in future years. Discretionary bonuses do none of that.

However, the key argument against the company’s suggestion regarding the impact of bonuses is that years ago pharmacists had the “right level” of pay plus the opportunity for discretionary bonuses. Now that the real-term pay has been reduced it is disingenuous to claim the option for discretionary bonus has become something extra that bridges a gap caused by the low pay increases of recent years.

Who are ACAS and what will they do?

Under the agreement between Boots and the PDA Union, if no agreement can be made in the annual pay talks either party can invite The Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service ( ACAS) to conciliate.  ACAS is a crown non-departmental public body of the Government of the United Kingdom.

As the name suggests ACAS can either arbitrate or conciliate, however when reaching the agreement which applies to pharmacists in 2019, the company would not commit to independent arbitration when there were disputed talks, so under the agreement, ACAS can only be asked to conciliate. NB: The PDA remain willing to amend the recognition agreement to allow independent arbitration by ACAS.

In conciliation, ACAS will try to help both sides to try to come to an agreement and settle the dispute by finding common ground to help both sides find a way forward. However, in arbitration, an independent and neutral party (ACAS) would consider the arguments from both sides of the dispute and make a decision based on the evidence presented.

What happens next?

Through discussion, the PDA and Boots have already reached a point where the value of the offer on the table for pharmacists is above the flat 2% which was given to groups of other staff with November pay review dates.

The company have confirmed that their negotiating team, led by the Director of Pharmacy-Stores, Anne Higgins are empowered to decide how much increase is agreed for pharmacists, and the PDA are hopeful that they will agree on an increase which can be acceptable. However, if no such agreement is reached despite the help of ACAS, it will be for pharmacists to decide if they wish to continue the dispute and consider some form of industrial action (see previous Boots pay consultation outcome).

The way that such decision-making works in situations like this in the UK is that union members are the ones asked to reach that decision. Any pharmacist at Boots who wants to have a say but is not yet a PDA Union member still has time to join the PDA today.

Any pharmacist whose pay is being negotiated is eligible to apply for PDA membership, the majority of the PDA membership fee is tax deductable and membership also brings many other benefits.

Note: UK inflation indices

The UK uses several official indices to measure price inflation: 

  • RPI: the retail prices index
  • CPI: the consumer prices index
  • CPIH: the consumer prices index plus owner-occupiers’ housing costs

Price inflation refers to the increase in the price of goods and services over time and RPI, CPI and CPIH differ by which goods and services are included and the formula used to combine different prices. The main difference is that RPI includes mortgage interest payments, CPI takes no account of housing costs and CPIH includes housing costs but uses an approach called “rental equivalence.”

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The Pharmacists' Defence Association is a company limited by guarantee. Registered in England; Company No 4746656.

The Pharmacists' Defence Association is an appointed representative in respect of insurance mediation activities only of
The Pharmacy Insurance Agency Limited which is registered in England and Wales under company number 2591975
and is authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority (Register No 307063)

The PDA Union is recognised by the Certification Officer as an independent trade union.

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