Boots Pharmacists urged to Seize The Day

This feature reports on two developments which could change the way pharmacists’ relationship with Alliance Boots will function in the future. If the approach taken in this organisation is successful, then it may be possible to establish similar arrangements with other pharmacy employers.

Fri 20th January 2012 PDA Union

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Lodging of a joint claim to the Employment Tribunal

In April 2011 the Company announced that from June it was changing the rates of pay for staff working Sundays and Bank Holidays. This meant that those mainly or only working Sundays found their pay could be reduced by as much as 25%.

After the Company refused a proposal from the PDA Union for a collective grievance to be heard, those that were unhappy with the changes were advised by the Union to decline to accept the new terms in writing, stating that this was not what they had agreed to do, and they expect to be paid at the rate in their employment contract. In this communication, members were also advised to notify the Company that should a resolution not be reached by 1st June 2011 they would be working under protest at the new terms and that they would regard any reduction in their pay or benefits to represent an unlawful deduction, as they have neither agreed to the deduction, nor is it permitted under law.

Having continued to work from June at the reduced rates of pay under protest and by following the process of submitting a grievance and appeal, seventeen pharmacists, with the support of the PDA Union have lodged a joint claim against the Company for unlawful deduction of wages and in some cases for discrimination as well in the Employment Tribunal service.

If successful this action could result in Boots rethinking their strategy for reducing pay for working Sundays and see members returned to their original rates of pay with compensatory payments for losses to date.

Formal application for union recognition

The other major development is that by the middle of January 2012 Boots will have received a letter seeking formal recognition for the PDA Union as the recognised union for pharmacists within the Company.

If a voluntary agreement cannot be reached between an employer and a union about recognition rights then legislation provides for a specific and rigorous procedure to be followed that may lead all the way to the Central Arbitration Committee.

The PDA Union wrote to Boots in March 2011 to seek an informal voluntary agreement for the representation of pharmacists to be established between the two parties; a polite reply stated;

“We see our pharmacists as an integral part of our stores teams in Boots, rather than as a separate interest group, and we work closely with the Boots Pharmacists Association on matters specifically related to them”

In essence the Company was defining the ‘bargaining unit’ and its position appears to be that pharmacists are not a group that require any different treatment in negotiating terms and conditions to any other members of staff.

The PDA Union sees clear and categorical reasons as to why pharmacists are a separate and unique bargaining unit based on their differential salary package, their professional position and the statutory and ethical requirements of their role which impinge directly on how they discharge their duties to the public and to the ‘stores team’. The Union believes however that the fact that the Company does not presently accept that pharmacists have different requirements is demonstration in itself that they should be considered a separate bargaining unit.

Who do you want to represent you?

Now the formal process has started, should Boots reject the approach, the PDA Union will apply to the Central Arbitration Committee (CAC) which will decide the matter.

History shows that some organisations prefer not to deal with strong unions because of fear of interference in labour organisation. Representation has been particularly fragmented in retail in general and pharmacy in particular. It is also apparent that the Company would prefer to deal with the Boots Pharmacists Association (BPA), an organisation that does not have full representative rights, rather than the PDA Union. It (The Company) has, very recently been actively supporting the BPA providing many opportunities to recruit pharmacists and to bolster the BPAs credibility. The PDA Union believes that this is part of a strategy to keep PDA’s more effective and better resourced union at arms length.

It is anticipated therefore that Boots will object to the PDA Union’s application on the grounds that it already has a relationship with BPA which by definition would also exclude a ‘new body” seeking formal recognition for pharmacists.

As the application process progresses then it is highly likely that a ballot will ensue. That will be the time for all Boots pharmacists, whether members or non members of the PDA Union, to decide how their workplace interests should best be represented.

Why the PDA Union will be good for Boots Pharmacists

  • The PDA Union has a 19,000 strong membership which has shown strong growth since its inauguration as a Trades Union in 2008 and other than the RPS is the largest democratic representative organisation for individual pharmacists in the UK.
  • Defending pharmacists is its full time ‘day job’. The PDA Union is not a part time volunteer organisation; it is staffed with expert pharmacists and legal professionals who together with trade union specialists are employed to work on members’ behalf. This is why the organisation is often prepared to take up issues on behalf of members for which others lack the capability, the capacity and the will to deal with.
  • The PDA Union has an excellent track record in defending pharmacists in disciplinary and grievances within Boots. The PDA Union has a large network of representatives to choose from depending on the nature of the employment dispute. They are independent and have no conflict of interests and no fear of being deterred or suffering detriment as a result of carrying out their duties. Many have the benefit of senior management experience in Boots and are well versed in corporate tactics and strategy.
  • The PDA Union rigorously protects the employment rights and professional autonomy of the individual pharmacist. What other organisation has brought a group action against the Company for the erosion of pharmacists’ pay and employment rights? What other organisation has fought a five year battle to see pharmacists protected from the unsuitable RP regulations? On a wider front what other organisation has secured nearly £1 million in compensation for employees from pharmacy employers collectively that have treated them harshly or illegally?

The PDA Union vigorously preserves its independence from any employer so that there can be no conflicts of interests.

However, as an example, BPA currently provide their members with legal defence costs insurance through the NPA. In a recent BPA newsletter it was noted that “the current level of charge [to BPA members for this insurance] is actually provided at an overall loss to the NPA”.

The NPA is an organisation that represents employers (of which Boots is an associate member) and it has to put the interests of employers before that of employees. Because of the PDA Unions independence, it is inconceivable that it would ever enter into a relationship with an employers’ organisation in this way. It is regrettable that negotiations between the BPA and the PDA to merge broke down in 2006 when the BPA chose instead to maintain its close links with Company management. The PDA Union believes this to have been a significant lost opportunity.

Decision time for Boots Pharmacists

It is decision time for PDA and non-PDA union pharmacists. Due to Trades Union recognition legislation, once the formal procedure is set in motion, there is a narrow window of opportunity to shape the future for the better and pharmacists will need to decide whether or not they want the PDA Union to represent them on a collective basis. If so, and judging by the majority of Boots pharmacist who are in PDA membership there is a belief that this is the case, then all pharmacists and PDA Union members in particular may need to fight for what they want, not only by showing active support in a ballot (as may be required) but also by canvassing the support of pharmacist colleagues.

What happens next?

John Murphy the PDA Union General Secretary indicated what the next steps are likely to be

“The PDA Union and Alliance Boots will need to follow a defined process as laid down by legislation” he said “and we will keep all of our members informed through our web site.”

By Spring or early Summer, if the application is going in our favour, all eligible Boots pharmacists and pre-registration graduates will be asked to vote in a ballot as to whether they would accept the PDA Union as their recognised union for purposes of consultation and negotiation on terms and conditions.”

 

What can you do?

John then went on to indicate what individuals could do to influence the process. “Well, if you are a member we hope that you will welcome this historic development and If you are not a member, then we urge you to join and lend your support.”

He went on to make a special plea to pharmacists who are members of the BPA but not the PDA Union when he said “You may wish to lobby the BPA to find a way to support the creation of a single, new and formidable organisation with teeth that can represent the interests of all Boots pharmacists”.

He urged all Boots employee pharmacists to “make an informed choice and to keep yourself abreast of developments and the issues at stake before you vote”.

 

If you are not a Boots employee and believe that you would like to see a similar model in your organisation then please contact us through enquiries@pda-union.org

 

To support the PDA Union please complete the form at one of the website below

PLEDGE YOUR SUPPORT FOR THE PDA UNION – PHARMACISTS

PLEDGE YOUR SUPPORT FOR THE PDA UNION – PRE-REGISTRATION GRADUATES

Article published in Insight Winter 2011

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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