The story so far, in brief…

The Pharmacist Defence Association Union (PDAU) was certified as an independent trade union in 2010.

The Pharmacist Defence Association Union (PDAU) was certified as an independent trade union in 2010. We first sought in 2011 to represent Boots pharmacists and pre-registration graduates for collective bargaining purposes. This was so that we could negotiate with Boots on your behalf to improve your working conditions and terms and conditions of employment, such as pay, hours and holiday entitlement. We wrote to Boots asking the company to voluntarily allow us to do that, but it declined, saying that it did not see Boots pharmacists as a separate interest group to other staff in its stores (we disagree; the professional requirements and needs of Boots pharmacists are entirely different to those of any other staff group).

In February 2012, we entered a formal process to gain recognition, applying to the Central Arbitration Committee (CAC). Boots asked us to withdraw our application before the deadline for discussions expired, and to meet with them to discuss whether an agreement could be reached. We did so in good faith and attended the meeting with Boots on 2 March 2012. At that meeting, Boots made no mention of the fact that the day before, on 1 March, it had met with the Boots Pharmacists’ Association (BPA) and reached an agreement with them in order to block our application.

The CAC later concluded that Boots “had been disingenuous as the Employer had deliberately misled the [PDA] Union in order to buy time to conclude arrangements with the BPA recorded in the Agreement.” In fact, the Boots Director of Stores HR admitted under cross examination that the intended effect of the agreement signed with BPA, in its totality, was to ensure that no Boots pharmacists could have any negotiating rights over their terms and conditions whatsoever.link The Stores HR director also told the CAC that in the event of any disagreement with BPA, the company’s position would prevail. Boots also stated that it had never been in dispute with the BPA; this accords with our view that the BPA is an organisation which is willing to accept the status quo, without offering meaningful challenge.

Boots’ agreement with the BPA explicitly prevents negotiation on terms and conditions such as pay, hours and holiday and is limited to the facilities for its officials (such as whether the CEO is given a new computer by the employer) and the machinery for consultation (such as the location and frequency of meetings). These things are, in our view, of very little use to Boots pharmacists. If we are successful in gaining recognition with Boots, it will be to represent the interests of Boots pharmacists and pre-regs on things that really matter to them.

As an independent union, the PDA Union continued with its application for recognition to the CAC, who determined that it could proceed. However, Boots challenged this through a judicial review, on the grounds that the agreement with the BPA could block our application. The CAC’s decision was subsequently overturned. We appealed, arguing that the human rights of Boots pharmacists were being infringed. The Court of Appeal finally determined in 2017 that this was not the case because Boots pharmacists could seek derecognition of the BPA. We were suprised to hear Boots lawyers arguing the same, throughout the legal process.

Six pharmacist colleagues did just that – applied to derecognise the BPA in order that the PDA Union could become recognised to negotiate better working conditions and terms and conditions on your behalf. Boots pharmacists and pre-registration graduates then had the opportunity to vote for a better future in a secret postal ballot managed by in independent company under the direction of the Central Arbitration Committee.  It was the first time such a ballot had been organised in British industrial history.

The result was overwhelming and 87% of votes in that ballot (2,826 pharmacists) voted to remove the blocking agreement that senior management had used to deny their employees an independent voice at work.  However Boots still would not make a voluntary agreement with the PDA Union as their employed pharmacists clearly wanted.  They asked the CAC to allow the arrangement with the BPA to continue, then when direct talks between senior management and PDA Union ended they extended the process by also asking for further talks facilitated by ACAS (Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service).  Still no agreement was made.

Boots senior management then, despite having argued that the BPA’s recognition had included all employed pharmacists including directors and the superintendent before the first ballot, sought to reduce the number of pharmacists to be included in PDA Unions application for recognition.  PDA Union had said that the same population who were eligible to vote in the first ballot should remain included, but the senior management argued that store managers and others should be excluded.  Eventually the CAC made the decision that Pharmacists and pre-registration pharmacists at grade 5, 6 & 7 in stores will be entitled to vote.

The PDA Union negotiated the arrangements for a ballot of those pharmacists and pre-registration pharmacists and the ballot period will run for five weeks from Monday 4 February 2019 with voting papers likely to be posted out in the first 10 days.

If all those individuals vote to support PDAU again, this second ballot can also be won. However, under the law which dictates the process if less than 40% of those entitled to vote support the PDAU application they could be locked out for at least three more years.

Every vote will count.

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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