Frequently Asked Questions

The FAQs were last updated on 25 April 2018

30. What should I do if I don’t receive my ballot paper?

We will publish these details once we receive them from the Central Arbitration Committee.  In the meantime Boots pharmacists and pre-registration trainees are actively encouraged to ensure their correct details are registered on the company systems so that they will receive ballot papers to their home address without delay once they are issued.

29. When will ballot papers be issued?

The ballot period commences on Monday 4 February and ballot papers will be issued as soon as the QIP has an up to date list of all eligible voters’ names and addresses from the company.  The company has until the 1oth working day of the ballot period to provide that information so if they delay until the 10th day this will only leave 15 working days for ballots to be distributed , completed and returned.  So we encourage you to vote and return you ballot without delay as soon as you receive it.

28. How can I make sure I will receive my ballot paper?

Boots pharmacists and pre-registration trainees are actively encouraged to ensure their correct details are registered on the company systems so that they will receive ballot papers to their home address without delay once they are issued.

Read more here: https://www.the-pda.org/boots-pharmacists-make-sure-you-get-a-say-in-coming-ballot/

27. Why do we need to have 40% voting in favour of recognition?

The legislation which applies to these matters is the Trade Union & Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992 (as amended from time to time) also known as “TULRCA” and it requires that for change to happen recognition ballots must not only demonstrate a majority of those who vote, do support recognition, but also those who vote for change must consist of at least 40% of all those entitled to vote.

Read more here: https://www.the-pda.org/40-percent-matters/

26. Which roles are eligible to vote?

Pharmacists and pre-registration pharmacists at grade 5, 6 & 7 in stores will be entitled to vote.  Ballots papers will be sent to you by the Qualified Independent Person (QIP) , a company that manages the ballot process on behalf of the Central Arbitration Committee.

The ballot paper will include a pre-paid envelope so that you can return your completed ballot.

*The exact list of job titles that meet the criteria may change slightly from time to time based on normal business activities, for example vacancies, appointments, projects, reorganisations or re-titling of roles.

25. How would PDAU collective bargaining be different from what has previously happened?

Under the previous situation, the BPA was restricted by the agreement it signed six years ago to negotiations with Boots over inconsequential matters such as whether the BPA Chief Executive received a company laptop and the location or frequency of the BPA’s meetings with the company. These issues were of little interest to the vast majority of pharmacists and pre-registration graduates; the BPA was prohibited from collectively bargaining over any other topics.

The major decisions were decided by management alone, without any input from the pharmacists that those decisions affected.

Under a PDAU collective bargaining agreement with Boots, senior company managers would be obliged to put forward their pay proposals and supporting evidence to a committee comprising of company representatives and elected Boots pharmacists, who would consider the offer and seek the views of other Boots pharmacists on what is being proposed. The PDAU may provide additional evidence to support an improved pay offer and through a process of give-and-take, a mutually beneficial agreement could be reached. In the event of an impasse, there should be a defined dispute resolution process. The whole process would be far more transparent, and pharmacists would have the opportunity to input into the discussions.

24. What is “collective bargaining”?

Collective bargaining is the process of negotiation between the representatives of workers (trade unions) and the representatives of employers (senior management) covering terms and conditions such as matters relating to pay, hours of work and working conditions. The negotiations are ‘collective’ because a trade union acts on behalf of the employees as a group, rather than each employee negotiating on his/her own.

Collective bargaining provides employees with a voice to negotiate on their behalf with their employers. Through give-and-take, employers and unions are able to reach an agreement that not only benefits union members, but also meets the objectives of the business. A collective agreement provides both employers and employees with certainty on the issues that have been agreed.

Collective approaches in the workplace support stronger industry standards, pensions, workforce pay and progression, safety standards, and prevalence and maintenance of workplace conditions. The trusting relationships that underpin collective bargaining unlock knowledge, aid conflict resolution and focuses on prosperity and productivity.

23. What is the Pharmacist Partnership Panel (PPP), would it continue if the PDAU is recognised?

PPP

The PPP consists of pharmacists who are chosen by senior company managers. The PPP was set up by Boots around the time the PDA Union first sought formal recognition in 2012. During previous legal hearings about PDAU recognition the company tried to use the creation of the PPP as a listening forum for pharmacists, to demonstrate to the Central Arbitration Committee (CAC) that there was no need for a collective bargaining agreement with the PDA Union; the CAC rejected that argument.

After pharmacists won the ballot in June and as PDA Union started to talk with the senior management about recognition, they relaunched the PPP. The PPP is supposed to feed back issues among pharmacists at store level to the company so that improvements can be made. Although PPP representatives may raise issues at the meetings, pharmacists inform us that awkward or controversial questions asked via their PPP representative on topics such as ACI or staff resource, go unanswered.

Indeed, the company hears similar messages through other internal communications channels such as the national forum, line management, Pharmacy Unscripted, colleague satisfaction surveys and Let’s Connect events, but doesn’t seem to get to the root of some issues where pharmacists report their concerns.  They are all management controlled mechanisms.

PDA Union View

The PDA Union believes that though PPP may be well meaning, they are very limited in their ability to secure any real change for pharmacists, due to the constraints of the one sided relationship that both organisations have with the company.

As this second ballot has loomed, Boots senior management appear to have been on a charm offensive promoting all sorts of internal communications channels, included the PPP.  Whenever Boots perceives a threat from the PDA Union it starts to heavily promote such channels as providing effective mechanism to address issues raised by pharmacists. As soon as the threat goes away, the focus and attention given by the company to these organisations and pharmacists rapidly diminishes. This happened in 2012 when the PDA Union first applied for formal recognition.

Pharmacists can judge for themselves whether their working conditions and terms of employment have improved over the last 5 years under the relationship that the BPA and PPP have with Boots.   However there is no reason why any of those channels, or an individuals relationship with their line manager, should change if PDAU are recognised.

PDA Union recognition will not replace existing management controlled mechanisms, it will provide a new independent way that Pharmacists and Pre-regsitration trainees can have their voice heard at work.

22. If the PDAU was recognised and there was a widespread dispute between pharmacists and the company such as the cuts to premium pay, would pharmacists go on strike?

The PDAU is a modern progressive union set up by and run for pharmacists. Pharmacists are not traditionally a militant profession and any strike or other industrial action would require a democratic mandate that is strictly controlled by legislation. Pharmacists in Boots would decide on whether to take any industrial action.

Where there are opposing points of view, the PDA Union firmly believes in the power of persuasion through reasoned and evidence-based discussions. For example, the PDAU believes that had a collective bargaining agreement been in place when Boots cut premium pay for pharmacists, a long drawn out court battle, where Boots was found to have acted unlawfully, could have been avoided and a negotiated solution reached. Unfortunately, Boots refused to engage in a collective dialogue with the PDAU on the cuts and many Boots pharmacists were then reluctantly forced to take their employer to court to seek compensation.

Some topics that would fall under a collective bargaining agreement are integral to the safe and effective provision of pharmacy services. It is in the common interest of Boots, pharmacists and patients for there to be a constructive and challenging dialogue about how these pharmacy services are delivered to maintain and enhance patient safety. The PDAU has the necessary expertise and independence to support such a dialogue.

The PDAU wants Boots pharmacists to be treated fairly and with respect at work and to have job security, fair reward and a good working environment. The PDAU supports pharmacists to put patient safety and professional standards first as clinical, autonomous health professionals.

The PDAU believes that it can forge a constructive relationship with Boots, built on transparency and proper pharmacist engagement, to ensure those things become reality for all its pharmacists.

21. If the PDAU was recognised by Boots, what would be different?

A collective bargaining or procedural agreement provides a structured framework for negotiations over topics such as the annual pay review or other matters of importance to pharmacists. Such an arrangement can be agreed between the employer and the independent union, or the CAC can impose one.

For example, Boots would be legally obliged to involve the PDAU at an early stage with its pay proposals and share the evidence that supports its position. There is a statutory code of practice which gives independent trade unions the right to seek a raft of information for the purposes of negotiating over key topics; a failure to comply by the employer allows the union to present a claim to the CAC for improved terms and conditions, where in certain circumstances the CAC can order an employer to implement.

The PDAU, through a democratic representative structure within Boots, would be able to review the company evidence and seek feedback from Boots pharmacists on the proposals. The PDAU could commission its own independent research to present to the company as part of any counter-proposals on the pay award and submit other evidence in support of pharmacists’ views. The PDAU has knowledge of the terms and conditions for all major pharmacy employers and is therefore in an advantageous position to take an industry-wide view.

It is important to remember one of the primary objectives of the PDA Union is:

“To protect the Terms & Conditions of the Members individually (or collectively) and where appropriate secure adequate remuneration for their services and improvements in their conditions and material wellbeing”

By a process of negotiation and compromise on both sides, a pay award that is fair and reasonable could be reached which reflects the contribution that pharmacists make to the success of the company. If agreement could not be reached because it lacked majority support from Boots pharmacists, there could be a defined dispute resolution process in place to follow. This could involve an independent third party such as ACAS.

Boots senior management do not want there to be any negotiations over pay or other important issues for pharmacists and managed to block anyone else from being able to do so for years. However ending their agreement with the BPA means the PDAU will be able to negotiate over your pay and conditions if we win the ballot in February

Until now Boots senior executives decide what the pay award is going to be and then they just informed the BPA and Boots pharmacists of the decision.

20. Boots tried to maintain their relationship with the BPA until teh previosu vote brought that to an end. What was the true nature of the relationship between them?

The Trades Union Certification Officer reached the following conclusion on the relationship when the BPA applied for a Certificate of Independence:

“It is rather by stepping back from the detail of the relationship between the BPA and Boots and looking at the picture as a whole that there emerges, in my judgment, a clear image of a union that has over the years been drawn into a situation in which it is indeed liable to interference by Boots. I find that such vulnerability is evidenced, inter alia, by the BPA’s weak financial base, its dependence on the goodwill of Boots to continue the check off arrangements, its lack of any detailed contingency plans should Boots discontinue that arrangement, its promotion by Boots to new employees as well as its receipt of financial and other support. Whether or not the BPA could survive the withdrawal of such support is not the issue. I must consider whether the threat of its withdrawal or serious curtailment place the Union in a position that it is liable to interference tending towards domination or control. For the above reasons, I find that the BPA is liable to such interference. In all the circumstances before me, I find that the BPA is not an independent trade union within the meaning of section 5 of the 1992 Act.”

PDA is an independent union run by individual pharmacists and we will never be under the domination or control of any employer.

19. I’ve heard that Boots operates a forced distribution for deciding the split of how many pharmacists are graded as “not performing”, “performing” and “legendary”. Is this correct?

Yes, and it’s something that we will be talking to the senior management about if we get recognition.  We will be challenging the fairness and lack of transparency in the forced distribution process and asking the management to discuss with us any differences in the profile among women and men, employees with different ethnicities, etc.

18. The debate is currently about collective bargaining over pay, hours and holidays – whilst important, what about my health, safety and welfare at work?

The PDAU sees recognition as being more than the basic terms and conditions of employment; many issues raised by Boots pharmacists also relate to their health & safety at work and general welfare. Pharmacists are very reliant upon their employer to provide competent support staff to deliver a safe and effective pharmacy service. A lack of resource can increase the health and safety risk to pharmacists, pharmacy colleagues and patients alike.

If pharmacists vote for the derecognition of the BPA and the recognition of the PDAU, we would appoint a network of health & safety representatives. Their role is independent of management as they are there to represent the interests and concerns of their colleagues. The company is legally obliged to provide health and safety representatives with paid time to carry out their duties and undergo relevant training for this role.

17. What does the PDAU know about pharmacy outside of Boots?

In addition to the members who currently work at Boots, the PDAU has tens of thousands of other members across the UK. We listen to them about their experiences of pharmacy and so we are well informed about the realities of working in modern pharmacy practice. We are able to support members throughout their career as a pharmacist, wherever they work.

We are the only independent trade union in the UK exclusively for pharmacists. We were set up for pharmacists, by pharmacists. Alongside our work supporting individuals with their workplace situations, we are constantly interacting with other organisations and bodies about matters that impact upon our members. This includes the government, regulators, employers and other unions. Examples of our consultation responses can be found here: https://www.the-pda.org/archive/consultations/

The PDAU is also the only UK member of the EPhEU (European Association of Employed community Pharmacists in Europe), which is the first Europe-wide organisation representing the interests of employed community pharmacists.

16. What does the PDAU know about Boots?

Firstly, we listen to the Boots pharmacists that are already our members and help them with any individual issues or queries. Secondly, many of our elected representatives and our employed team have, or still do, work at Boots. There has probably not been a day since the PDAU was formed that we haven’t been helping at least one Boots member with an issue somewhere in the country. So, we believe we are very aware of what it means for pharmacists to work at Boots and our members are happy to confide in us, because we are truly independent from the employer.

We help our members raise concerns about situations they face and give the company every reasonable opportunity to put things right. Under UK law, we can already represent members through processes such as disciplinary, grievance hearings or performance rating appeals. We know that some issues may be best resolved informally, locally and at an early stage and we should be able to do more of that once we are recognised. We would also be well placed to help Boots senior management prevent issues arising in the first place and we are aware that some issues need to be addressed at a company level.

We know that trade unions and management working together should be able to avoid situations escalating into disputes. However, where the company chooses not to put right incidents of unfair treatment internally, we are able to support our members through external processes such as employment tribunals where necessary. We already do this and have secured significant financial settlements for members treated unfairly, running into hundreds of thousands of pounds through in-court and out-of-court agreements.

15. Does my employer work with independent trade unions in other parts of the business?

Yes. Other parts of the Walgreens Boots Alliance group, including Alliance Healthcare and Boots Logistics, have successful recognition agreements with external and certified independent trade unions. Walgreens Boots Alliance also has successful recognition agreements with pharmacist trade unions in the United States and elsewhere.

14. Does the PDAU speak, and act, on behalf of pharmacists at Boots?

The PDAU is the voice of individual pharmacists. The PDAU is not affiliated to any political party or under the influence of any external body. Its independence from employers is certified by the Certification Officer, the regulator of  Britain’s trade unions and employer organisations. The PDAU has more than 2,300 members employed at Boots and a lot more who locum there.  The union has more than 28,000 members in total.

If PDAU gains recognition, there will be a new part of the union’s structure created so that Boots pharmacists and pre-registration trainees can decide who among them will act as their representatives, with those individuals supported by PDA Union officials and infrastructure.

There is no reason that this group could not work as closely with the company as the BPA did in the past if they wished, but the difference would be that a PDAU committee would also have the full resources, expertise and independence of the PDAU behind them too.  They will be able to confidently negotiate over any changes that the company may propose and request changes that pharmacists want too.

13. What has happened to the BPA?

The vote in June showed that the BPA arrangement with the Senior Management was not what Pharmacists and Pre-registration Trainees wanted. Almost 87% of votes were for ending that arrangement and fewer than half of their own members voted as the BPA wished. As a consequence the recognition they had with Boots has been terminated though the organisation does still exist.

12. Is this application just a recent action by a few pharmacists?

Sadly Boots has been blocking its pharmacist and pre-reg employees from having an independent trade union to represent their views for many years. The PDAU has been working hard for pharmacists and pre-regs at Boots, both informally and through the courts to resolve this. In 2018, the Court of Appeal confirmed that the next step for Boots pharmacists was that one or more of them could lodge an application to the Central Arbitration Committee (CAC) to derecognise the BPA: https://www.the-pda.org/press-release-update-on-pdau-recognition-with-boots/

Boots itself agreed at the Court of Appeal that pharmacists could seek recognition of the PDAU by first derecognising the BPA. This step was only necessary because the BPA decided to become a “sweetheart union” and signed up to a blocking agreement with Boots. This is where a non-independent union joins forces with an employer to prevent employees from being able to negotiate over their pay, hours and working conditions through an independent union. Boots behaviour in hastily securing this “sweetheart deal” has previously been described as disingenuous by the Central Arbitration Committee.

Although the law only required one signature, six pharmacists jointly made the application and then in the ballot last Summer 2,826 pharmacists and pre-registration trainees voted in favour.  That was an overwhelming 87% of those who voted.  The process now requires a second ballot for recognition of the PDA Union.  We need at least 40% of those eligible to vote in our favour before the ballot period closes in order to secure recognition.

11. Why is the PDAU focusing on union recognition at Boots when there is so much more going on that affect pharmacists?

A. We want all pharmacists, wherever they are employed, to be properly treated at work, with reasonable working conditions and a fair reward. We want to see patient safety coming before profit, always. Boots is the largest pharmacy multiple and so getting things better there will not only directly impact on a considerable number of pharmacists, but will also have an influence across the whole sector.

We are dealing with employment disputes at Boots all the time and know that prevention is much better than cure. A recognition agreement would mean the union working closely with Boots to improve working conditions and the treatment of pharmacists which can only be of benefit to pharmacists, Boots and importantly, patients.

We don’t only help individuals or groups with their issues or concerns, we do a lot more in addressing the other matters that affect pharmacists too, such as employment rights, pharmacy regulation and government policy. We are a growing union with 28,000+ members including over 2300 employed by Boots and we are the voice of individual pharmacists across the UK.

Please have a look across our website, read INSIGHT magazine, follow us on social media and, if you aren’t already a member, sign up for our mailing list (on bottom of our website homepage) to keep up to date with the wide range of activity we do across Pharmacy all year every year.

10. Where can I find out what my colleagues think about the recognition application?

A. Boots has a discussion forum called PharmacyUnscripted, open to all Boots employed pharmacists and pre-registration graduates (www.pharmacyunscripted.co.uk). We encourage pharmacists and pre-reg graduates to contribute to the debate, although we recognise that some may be reluctant to do so for fear of retribution or damage to their career prospects. The Central Arbitration Committee (the independent government body that oversees union recognition processes) is aware of such issues from the previous application for PDAU recognition and have previously said:

The Panel notes the somewhat isolated working arrangements of the workers in the proposed bargaining unit and the widespread knowledge of the Employer’s [Boots] opposition to the Union’s application and that both are likely to be a deterrent to making supportive views known. Of course there may be some who keep their views against recognition to themselves, for fear of upsetting those in support, but on balance the Panel concludes that amongst the non-members of either organisation [PDAU/BPA], those who support recognition would have more reason to keep quiet than those who oppose it.

Before the legal challenge was successful and Boots blocked the recognition process, the CAC had considered the PDAU’s application for recognition and permitted it to progress to the stage where a secret ballot was due to be held of all the pharmacists in the bargaining unit. The full acceptance decision by the CAC can be found by clicking here.

9. What is the PDAU’s view on staffing levels?

A. Any pharmacy business should have a robust model to allocate sufficient funding to support the safe operation of the pharmacy. This model should be transparent so the Responsible Pharmacist can have confidence that the budget/staffing levels allocated are safe and match the workload. The PDAU believe that staffing levels/budgets must be driven by workload and reflect the realities of running a pharmacy. Holidays, training time, local salary variations and other foreseeable events must be factored in.

The time standards for each pharmacy activity should be available to pharmacists to help them make decisions about appropriate staffing levels for their pharmacy.  A recent Information Commisioner judgement revealed that Boots Senior Management want to keep the staffing model from their own pharmacists you can read more here https://www.the-pda.org/ico-decision-on-bbc-complaint/

8. My employer has told me that in order to best serve the interests of the pharmacy and wider Boots colleague population, the company believe it is essential to build great relationships between pharmacists, their line managers and their local team. Will recognising the PDAU be a barrier to having “great relationships”?

A. No, certainly not. We do not understand why Boots would think that PDAU recognition would impact on local relationships. The PDAU believe that recognition would actually improve relationships, because pharmacists would feel better supported and more in control of the pharmacy, as well as having greater confidence in any pay and reward schemes negotiated through the PDAU. Other members of the pharmacy team and the wider Boots colleague population are at liberty to join a union of their choice and seek similar recognition arrangements.

7. Can the company treat me differently if I support the PDA Union?

A. Boots, the BPA and the PDAU will never know how you vote in the derecognition or recognition ballots – these are done by a secret postal ballot. Pledges of support that pharmacists have given to us will also never be released to Boots.

If you do let other people know how you voted and Boots becomes aware of this, it would be unlawful for Boots to treat you less favourably as a consequence. The company must also not engage in any unfair practices in relation to the ballots. Companies are prevented from offering you inducements to vote in a particular way or to abstain from voting, coercing you to find out whether or how you intend to vote or subjecting you or anyone you know to any other detriment or threatening to do so.

We do not expect that the company will engage in unfair practices or subject any pharmacist or pre-registration graduate to unfavourable treatment as a result of supporting the PDA Union during the derecognition and recognition processes.

It is important that you let us know immediately if you become concerned that the company may have acted inappropriately towards you as a result of your Union membership or support for a Union. If you are not a PDAU member, we may still be able to offer some advice.

6. What about applying for recognition with other pharmacy multiples?

A. The PDAU has a strategic objective to seek formal recognition across a number of pharmacy employers. The Union Executive decided to approach Boots first as a pilot scheme in order to facilitate progress in other organisations. If the PDAU is successful in getting recognised by Boots, this will accelerate progress in becoming recognised in other organisations.

5. What happens if the PDAU does not receive the required level of support?

A. To secure recognition we need at least 40% of those eligible to vote to return their ballot papers voring in our favour before the ballot period closes.  If we do not gain recognition with Boots, we will continue to represent Boots pharmacists as we do now – in many successful challenges to unfair performance gradings and disciplinaries and supporting them in raising grievances where necessary. However, we believe that a failure due to lack of support would be a wasted opportunity for Boots pharmacists to exercise their choice and have real influence with their employer regarding their pay, working conditions and terms of employment.

4. I am receiving conflicting information from the BPA, who do I believe?

A. The CAC is an independent body with statutory powers, whose role is to resolve disputes. It has made findings of fact and observations about the PDA Union, Boots and its relationship with BPA. For an unbiased view, pharmacists should study the CAC decision which can be found here. The PDAU has been through a rigorous inspection process and been granted a Certificate of Independence. The BPA is not an independent trade union and may be misleading its members if it suggests that it is one.

3. What can the PDAU do that is different to what the BPA did?

A. The BPA did not negotiate with Boots on terms and conditions such as pay, hours and holiday. The agreement that BPA signed with the company specifically excluded such negotiations. Their agreement was limited in scope and negotiations are restricted to facilities for BPA officials and the machinery for consultation – for example, whether the Chief Executive receives a company laptop and when or where meetings with the company take place.

The PDA Union is a self sufficient independent trade union and with the resources provided by over 28,000 members we have our own resources and would not be dependent on the company in that way.  With that independence we are able to stand up to the senior management when we think they are making the wrong decision

For example, the BPA advised its members that the cuts to premium pay in 2011 were lawful. In contrast, the PDAU supported a challenge by a significant number of Boots pharmacists through the employment tribunal service and won the case, which has benefitted many Boots pharmacists.

The PDAU has a proven track record in ensuring that the interests of Boots pharmacists are protected, including defending pharmacists called to disciplinary meetings or supporting them at grievances. The PDAU routinely defends the professional autonomy of pharmacists employed by Boots and stops the unfair application of performance improvement plans or imposition of unreasonable targets.

Further information on the differences between the PDAU and the BPA can be found here.

2. What will change if the PDAU is successful in gaining recognition?

A. The PDAU will be able to collectively bargain with Boots on behalf of pharmacists regarding their terms of employment, hours, pay & holidays in order to secure the best outcome for pharmacists. At present, the company unilaterally decides on these matters.

If the PDAU is successful, we will seek an independent resolution process to be put in place in the event that an agreement could not be reached between Boots and the Union. We would also seek to expand negotiations  to working conditions and other matters that impact on patient safety and the professional autonomy of pharmacists. We believe that our involvement will significantly strengthen the status of pharmacists within Boots and help ensure their views are effectively represented at the highest level.

1. I am not a member of the PDAU, why should I bother voting to recognise the PDA Union?

A. The PDA Union already has the right to represent its members at disciplinaries and grievances, but many Boots pharmacists have told us they would like us to also have the right to collectively bargain for their terms and conditions of employment (such as matter relating to pay, hours and holiday).

Any improvements we negotiate will be applied to all Boots Pharmacists in scope, whether or not you are a member of the PDAU.  Beyond that the PDAU believes that because Boots is such a major employer in the sector improving terms and conditions there will inevitably influence the terms and conditions offered by other community pharmacy multiples and hence this could benefit pharmacists employed across the sector.

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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