Ballot of Boots pharmacists on future union representation now ‘inevitable’, says BPA

Boots Pharmacists’ Association wants executives to be allowed to vote on whether to derecognise it.

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A ballot of Boots pharmacists to settle the ongoing dispute over whether the Boots Pharmacists’ Association (BPA) should continue to represent them in collective bargaining is now “inevitable”, the chief executive of the BPA has told The Pharmaceutical Journal.

However, the timing of the ballot is uncertain as there is now dispute over which pharmacists should be eligible to vote in a ballot. This will be settled by the Central Arbitration Committee (CAC) at a hearing that is expected to take place in the week beginning 15 January 2018.

The ballot will be the culmination of a five-year battle by six Boots pharmacists to derecognise the BPA and secure independent representation at work through gaining collective bargaining rights for the Pharmacists’ Defence Association Union (PDAU).

In November 2017, the CAC, which resolves workplace disputes, accepted a legal application by the six Boots pharmacists to dissolve the BPA, triggering a 20-day statutory negotiating period. It meant that if no agreement was reached by the 13 December 2017 deadline, a final decision would be made by ballot. The case is the first to use current laws to try to derecognise a union.

The CAC’s decision in November hinged on whether the PDAU had the explicit support of 10% of Boots pharmacists, known as the bargaining unit, for its application to de-recognise the BPA, and then whether the panel thought it likely that a majority of the bargaining unit would vote for de-recognition in a ballot.

The panel accepted the PDAU’s argument that membership of the PDAU among Boots pharmacists constituted support for de-recognition of the BPA. The two unions are now in disagreement over which Boots pharmacists belong to the bargaining unit and should be able to vote in the ballot. The BPA asserts that senior managers who are members should get a vote, and the PDAU argues that they should not because the BPA only represents shop-floor pharmacists in negotiations with management.

Paul Day, national officer of the PDAU said: “Boots claim that every single person who is a pharmacist is in the group of workers to be involved.” This would include pharmacists working in the marketing department, training managers and even the chief pharmacist, if they were still registered pharmacists, he said.

Paul Robinson, chief executive of the BPA, said the numbers involved were not large but said the argument was over “the democratic principle that we believe that if you are a member of the association you shouldn’t be excluded from voting”.

“In our view it is really important that our members have the right to vote in a ballot that has the fundamental effect on their association or trade union,” he said. “It’s about our agreement with Boots and our agreement is that we represent everybody who is a member of the Association and pharmacists generally.”

“I think the ballot is inevitable,” he added, but he said he did not expect it would take place before the beginning of March 2018 at the earliest.

Timeline of events

November 2017:

The CAC publishes its full decision on the BPA de-recognition case .

August 2017:
PDAU urges Boots pharmacists to pledge support for legal action .

July 2017:

Six Boots pharmacists apply to CAC to derecognise BPA .

February 2017: Court of Appeal upholds High Court’s decision.

November 2016: PDAU appeals High Court ruling.

September 2014: The High Court rules that the UK and European laws are compatible and the only remaining course of action is for a Boots pharmacist to seek derecognition of the BPA.

July 2014: PDAU makes an application for a declaration of incompatibility of UK law with the European Convention on Human Rights on the back of the High Court’s ruling. A further hearing is held after government intervention.

January 2014:
High Court concludes in an interim decision that Boots has no obligation to recognise the PDAU because its agreement with the BPA could block the application under UK law.

January 2013:
CAC determines that PDAU’s application for recognition for collective bargaining rights with Boots should be allowed to proceed. Boots disagrees with the judgment and seeks a judicial review.

22 March 2012: Boots director of pharmacy writes to the PDAU saying it does not accept the proposal for formal recognition as it already has a formal, productive and effective way of working with the BPA. The PDAU proceeds with its application to the CAC.

1 March 2012: Boots prepares an agreement with the Boots Pharmacists’ Association (BPA), signed by both parties on 1 March 2012, which prohibits discussions on terms and conditions of employment by the PDAU.

February 2012: On 14 February, PDAU formally requests recognition by statutory procedure (via the Central Arbitration Committee [CAC]) with Boots. PDAU formally withdraws its application at Boots’s request.

10 February 2012: Boots again refuses PDAU’s request.

19 January 2012:
PDAU asks for voluntary recognition again.

March 2011: Pharmacists’ Defence Association Union (PDAU) writes to Boots asking the company to voluntarily recognise it for collective bargaining purposes. Boots refuses request.

Last updated
The Pharmaceutical Journal, PJ, January 2018, Vol 300, No 7909;300(7909):DOI:10.1211/PJ.2018.20204223

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