The Pharmacists’ Defence Association Union (PDAU) has lost the latest round of its ongoing battle to win the right to represent pharmacists employed by UK pharmacy chain Boots.
The Court of Appeal ruled in favour of Boots on 10 February 2017, confirming that it was lawful for the company to refuse to recognise the PDAU as the official trade union representing its pharmacists.
Currently, Boots formally negotiates with the Boots Pharmacists’ Association (BPA), a non-independent trade union.
The court rejected the appeal brought by the PDAU against an earlier 2014 High Court ruling and upheld that the refusal of Boots to recognise the union did not breach Article 11 of the European Convention of Human Rights.
Source: Pharmacists’ Defence Association Union
Mark Koziol, assistant general secretary at the PDAU, says: “The court has now clarified that the only way Boots pharmacists can have their collective bargaining rights represented by the PDAU is by seeking the derecognition of the BPA… This was not our preferred outcome.”
The latest judgement is a blow to the PDAU, which has been battling with Boots for five years to win the statutory right to represent its pharmacists on pay, hours and holidays.
The legal dispute hinges on whether the BPA or the PDAU has the legal right to negotiate with the company on behalf of its pharmacists.
The PDAU, which had 24,176 members in 2016, including around 2,000 Boots pharmacists, says it is considering the implications of the judgement before deciding its next steps.
The written judgement, published on 10 February 2017, confirms that Article 11 “does not confer a universal right on any trade union to be recognised in all circumstances”.
The judgement leaves the door open for a pharmacist who is a member of the BPA to take a case to the Central Arbitration Committee (CAC) — the body which decides cases of trade union recognition and derecognition — to ask for the BPA’s current bargaining arrangements with Boots to be ended.
In the published judgement, Lord Justice Underhill says: “The constraint imposed on the PDAU… is not absolute… it has a fair opportunity to secure recognition if a sufficient number of the pharmacists employed by Boots wish to be represented by it.”
Although he dismissed the PDAU appeal, Underhill added that it “may only be a short-term victory for Boots, since a route has been identified under which the PDAU can seek to take advantage of the statutory recognition procedure”.
A statement released by Boots says that the company “respected the right of our colleagues to become members of a trade union of their choice”.
“The Court of Appeal’s decision will clearly affect the PDAU’s formal recognition application and we are currently considering the implications of the judgment itself,” the statement adds.
“However, our commitment to our pharmacists remains the same. We want to continue to build great relationships between pharmacists, their line managers and their local team and, working with the BPA, continue to create the best working environment and provide even better care for our patients.”
Following the ruling, the BPA says that it has no intention of disbanding.
Paul Robinson, its chief executive, says: “The BPA has provided support to its members for over 40 years and it will continue to do so. This decision is one of a number within the process to gain union recognition started by the PDAU over four years ago.
Throughout this period the [BPA’s] response has been to continue to support and represent our members’ interests through regular consultative meetings with the Boots executive.”
The BPA declined to reveal its membership numbers, saying this was “a matter for the BPA and its membership”. In 2014, figures published in The Pharmaceutical Journal, showed that the organisation had 2,022 members from the 6,891-strong Boots pharmacist workforce.