Boots UK has pledged to launch a Joint Negotiation Committee (JNC) to offer pharmacists “a louder voice” in their business and on the future of pharmacy.
The Boots JNC would be a completely new body to represent Boots pharmacists as an alternative proposal to recognition by the Pharmacist Defence Association (PDA) Union.
The announcement was made just one working day before the opening of the formal ballot period for pharmacists and preregistration pharmacists at Boots to vote on whether or not they want to be represented by the PDA Union in the future.
In order for the PDA Union to be granted the role, at least 40% of eligible voters will need to vote ‘yes’ in the ballot. According to the union, if 40% is not achieved, nothing will change and pharmacists will be blocked from trying again for a further three years.
But Boots have now said that, in this instance, it would launch the Boots JNC as “a stronger alternative”.
“Pharmacy is, and remains at the heart of Boots,” said Andrew Caplan, pharmacy and retail operations director at Boots UK.
“The formation of [the JNC] with a ‘no’ vote will give all pharmacists a bigger voice shaping and driving this future, not just those who are members of a union.
“We believe that having a direct relationship with our pharmacists is better for patients and our pharmacists … This is what the Boots JNC would offer, if we are given the opportunity to launch it.”
The PDA Union has responded to the proposals by saying that they are “misleading” and contain “serious flaws”. They added that an organisation could not be “joint” with itself, and that this term could only be used when two separate legal entities are involved. It also warned that, in contrast to itself, Boots was proposing an “entirely unregulated arrangement” giving unhappy pharmacists nowhere to turn.
The PDA Union said that, following the announcement, it “immediately” heard from pharmacists who felt insulted at the company’s disregard for their previous vote.
Mark Pitt, assistant general secretary of the PDA Union, said: “Ironically, the proposal shows that because of our application for recognition the management have finally admitted that they are prepared to commit significant resources to engage with the voice of pharmacists and could commit to be more flexible and quick-acting if they wanted.
“We have constantly questioned why senior management spend so much time and effort on fighting against their own employees and, once this ballot concludes, we hope they will finally redirect that effort into working with us to improve working conditions for pharmacists.”
Pitt added that the PDA Union wanted maximum participation in the ballot and had made itself available to answer any questions from eligible voters.
“We hope pharmacists will have made up their minds to vote ‘yes’ by the time ballot papers are distributed and encourage individuals to return their ballot papers as soon as they receive them in order to give their vote the best chance of being received by the deadline,” he said.
Eligible voters include all pharmacists and preregistration pharmacists at grades five, six and seven in Boots stores and all votes need to be submitted by 12:00 on 11 March 2019.
If eligible pharmacists have not received a ballot paper by 22 February 2019, they are advised to contact the Central Arbitration Committee.