Boots Ballot: How the company work with independent trade unions in other countries, but they won’t do that here.

As an example of how Boots work with independent trade unions in other countries, Greta Torbergsen, General Secretary of the Norwegian Pharmaceutical Association (NFF) explains how pharmacists in Norway are negotiating better terms and conditions with Boots management. This contrasts with the actions of the Boots UK senior management who have spent years preventing pharmacists from having their trade union recognised.

Tue 5th February 2019 PDA Union

“In Norway, we have a long and traditional history for a well-regulated and comprehensive collaboration between employers and employees. We do this because we have an organized working life, where it is very common for both employees and employers to be organized in employee organizations and employer organizations, respectively. It is generally accepted that employers and employees in many cases have different interests, and in order to properly negotiate and enter into binding agreements on how to settle the disagreements that may arise, the two parties have organized themselves into different organizations.

Pharmacists in Norway are organized by the Norwegian Pharmaceutical Association (NFF) and the various pharmacy chains are organized in various employee organizations. Boots is the third largest pharmacy chain in Norway and together with the largest Apotek 1 (Phoenix Group) they are organized in the employer organization Virke – the Enterprise Federation of Norway.

Boots opened its first pharmacy in Norway in 2008 and we (the Norwegian Pharmaceutical Association) have had a collective agreement with them since then. This collective agreement regulates pay, extra pay for disadvantages, overtime, working hours, wages during illness, leave of absence and holidays as well as much more. In addition, it regulates how long in advance you should be notified of changes in working hours. And this is very important, since we know that it is very busy in pharmacies, there is a lot of work pressure and great responsibility placed on the individual pharmacist. It is very important to know when to work, that you are entitled to a break for 30 minutes (at your disposal) during the working day, and that your boss cannot change your shifts without giving you 4 weeks written notice in advance. Such a collective agreement is positive both for the employer and the employee. The employer knows what kind of rules they have to deal with and the employee finds that this is equally regulated in all pharmacies that are covered by the relevant collective agreement. Boots have the same collective agreement as Apotek 1 (Phoenix Group). The agreement has a duration of two years. We renegotiate every other year when all wording and text in the agreement is reviewed. In the interim, we only negotiate salaries.

In 2016, we tried to renegotiate large parts of the collective agreement. However, it was not possible to agree on those changes to the agreement at that time, so we set up a working group to look at the agreement. This was supposed to work out alternatives until 2018 where we were to negotiate the agreement text again. In this working group, representatives from NFF, Boots, Apotek 1 and Virke attended. It was the central HR managers from the head offices that represented the pharmacy chains. After much work, in the autumn of 2018, we agreed on a completely new collective agreement.

The picture above is from the signing of the new agreement and the Boots representative is partly hidden behind Virkes representative on the left side of the picture. You can see his watch and blue shirt and he has his phone on the table.

After the new agreement was signed, both we and Boots have had information tours around Norway to inform the pharmacies about the new agreement. In order to safeguard the employees in the various chains, including Boots, the system is that we have employee representatives who deal with local issues on behalf of the employees and we have elected head/chief representatives who  deal with the chain management in Boots. These chief elected representatives have regular meetings with Boots where they discuss various challenges that arise including interpretations of the new collective agreement. These main representatives all work in pharmacies and are an important part of the collaboration NFF has with the pharmacy chains to get the best possible working conditions for all pharmacists in all pharmacies around Norway. These main representatives are released from normal duties a certain number of hours a week to have time to work on union issues. This is also part of the central collective agreement we have with Boots. And for those of us who work centrally in NFF, it is very important to have representatives out there who knows what is happening in the individual pharmacies and who have experiences they can bring with them to these collaboration meetings with the management in Boots.

The new collective bargaining agreement we now have with Boots and Apotek 1 might not have been possible until a year ago, Boots had begun to interpret the old agreement literally and imposed all its newly appointed pharmacists an actual duty to work 39 hours a week. The wording of the old agreement was not clear enough and the practice around the agreement varied, so renegotiating the agreement was the smart choice. Now all pharmacists working in Boots and Apotek 1 have a working week of 37, 5 hours. This happened without having to lower the wages. They now have the same base salary for 37.5 hours as they previously received for working 39 hours per week. What we have accepted is mainly that paid inconvenience allowance now start a little later in the afternoon / evening and that all compensation for inconvenience (inconvenient working hours) should now be paid out and not automatically reduce working hours. This will result in a more predictable workforce for the employer when planning the shift plan.”

Greta Torbergsen,

Generalsekretær, i Norges Farmaceutiske Forening

General Secretary, The Norwegian Association of Pharmacists

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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