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Boots senior management adopt anti-union tactics to try and defeat the vote

In the forthcoming recognition ballot, Boots pharmacists have the opportunity to secure an independent voice at work. In preparation, the PDA Union spoke to employment relation experts to understand what pharmacists could expect if an employer wanted to deny its workers independent union representation. 

Thu 10th January 2019 The PDA

Two examples we were warned about were management describing the union as a “third party” and a strategy of establishing employee “listening” structures that exclude the union. Sadly, Boots is already showing signs of following the anti-union agenda we were warned about.

Marginalising Pharmacists

The PDA Union consists of 28,000 members, including over 2,500 pharmacists and pre-registration pharmacists working at Boots. Yet, Boots Senior Management has started to refer to their own people as a “third party” in a recent “happy new year” message, that heralded the start of the management’s campaign to defeat the wishes of their pharmacists for an independent voice at work.

Mark Pitt, Assistant General Secretary of the PDA Union said: “In a recent ballot at Boots, we believe that the company tried to marginalise those in support of derecognising the BPA by repeatedly isolating the “six applicants” in its communications; in the end, 2,826 people voted in support of the application and won the ballot, so they were by no means standing alone.

Remarkably, Boots now appears to be attempting to marginalise its front-line pharmacist workforce by describing them as a “third party”. We find this concerning in a huge multinational company that claims to be pharmacy-led. Boots is going to extraordinary lengths to stop its pharmacists securing better working conditions through the PDA Union.”

So-called “listening” structures

In terms of setting up “listening” structures, it’s something PDA Union has witnessed in the past from Boots and in a video, John Murphy, PDAU General Secretary (and former senior manager at Boots) talks about his observations of how Boots acts when it perceives a threat.

As John says, the PPP was created in 2013 when pharmacists first tried to secure recognition through the PDA Union.  It consists of management-appointed representatives and the company have no obligation to act upon their recommendations. It has been in operation since then and has recently been relaunched as the recognition ballot period approached.

During the formal ballot period between 4th February – 8th March, the company is legally obliged to invite union representatives to attend any pharmacist meetings that will discuss the ballot so that they can hear a balanced perspective.   Originally the PDA Union proposed that the ballot period should start in January to avoid the busy Christmas period, but this was rejected by Boots senior management because they said that January was still a very busy period.  In the spirit of compromise, the PDA Union agreed on a counterproposal of the ballot starting in February.

However, in a surprise development, Marc Donovan the Chief Pharmacist subsequently announced a series of nationwide roadshows which have been squeezed in just before the ballot period, meaning that the company avoid the obligation to invite the PDA Union if the recognition ballot is to be discussed.  PDA Union representatives offered to contribute to company meetings before the ballot period in order to help pharmacists be fully informed, but Boots declined to allow them to do so.  Boots management have informed the PDA Union that there are no pharmacist meetings planned for the ballot period.

Legal rights for Pharmacists

The company cannot block out the union message entirely and the rights of pharmacists to hear from the PDA Union are stronger during the ballot period itself. The PDA Union has negotiated daily access to the Pharmacy Unscripted Forum during the ballot period, albeit restricted to one discussion thread about the PDA Union’s Application for Union Recognition and we will be discussing the issues with pharmacists through that forum. Pharmacists should also receive union materials delivered into stores via the red mail bags during the ballot period and see a union poster on their store notice board. All the materials will also be available online.

Keep informed

It’s important to note that the company can talk to the pharmacists it employs at any time, but the union does not hold the contact details of those pharmacists who do not have PDA Union membership.  Therefore, the union asked the Central Arbitration Committee (CAC), the court who oversee the legal process for recognition, to appoint a Suitable Independent Person (SIP) who independently handles postal communications on behalf of the Union. This started over the holiday period when the union sent a new year’s message to all 7,000 eligible voters.

Pharmacists who want to keep up to date with all the developments in this ballot process are recommended to follow the PDA on social media: @the_pda on Twitter; “PharmacistsDefenceAssociation” on Facebook; the PDA is also on LinkedIn, Instagram and YouTube.

The ballot period at Boots is scheduled to start on 4th February 2019 and will run for five weeks.  Approximately 7,000 Pharmacists and pre-registration pharmacists at grade 5, 6 & 7 in stores will be entitled to vote and if 40% or more vote for PDA Union to be recognised, Boots senior management will have to accept a recognition agreement.  Boots is the first employer which the PDA Union is taking through the legal process on behalf of its members to secure recognition, but the aim is to secure recognition wherever its members work.

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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