The independent body that adjudicates on applications relating to the recognition and derecognition of trade unions has published its full decision on why it supported the Pharmacists’ Defence Association Union’s (PDAU) application to derecognise the Boots Pharmacists’ Association (BPA).
The Central Arbitration Committee (CAC) told both parties earlier in November 2017 that it had accepted the PDAU’s application, and that negotiations should now take place on transferring collective bargaining rights for Boots pharmacists to the PDAU. If no agreement could be reached within 20 days, a secret ballot of all Boots pharmacists would take place.
The PDAU has said that the deadline for an agreement to be in place is 13 December 2017, but so far no negotiations have taken place.
A PDAU spokesperson said: “We always hope to resolve things by agreement and so we have reached out to both Boots and to the BPA to invite them to talk to us in the hope that we can find such an agreement before that date.
“Both Boots and BPA have the option to end this process any time by ending their mutual agreement, therefore unless an agreement is found before the above date, the process will progress to ballot.”
The CAC’s decision 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 was likely that a majority of the bargaining unit would vote for de-recognition in a secret ballot.
In its ruling, the panel described the bargaining unit as “a little imprecise and hard to identify”, and it identified the dispute between the PDAU, who said it contained all Boots registered pharmacists and pre-registration pharmacists excluding those at area manager level or above, and Boots and the BPA, who said it contained simply all Boots-employed pharmacists and pre-registration pharmacists.
The panel found that area managers and above did not fall within the bargaining unit.
There was also disagreement over the size of the bargaining unit. The PDAU said in its initial application that it believed that 5,500 pharmacists were employed by Boots. Boots most recent figure was 7,157, which the panel accepted.
The panel ruled out a full “membership and support check” of Boots pharmacists on the grounds that extensive information had already been provided by both sides, and such a check would involve “excessive delay”. But it said that if a secret ballot was required, a more accurate figure of the size of the bargaining unit would be needed.
In its ruling, the panel said this “particularly unusual and interesting case” has a “considerable history”, and that it was the first to come before the CAC in 17 years since the relevant legislation came into force.
In its attempt to prove support for its position, the PDAU presented evidence that 1,017 Boots pharmacists — 14.2% of the bargaining unit — had signed a pledge calling for de-recognition of the BPA. Boots questioned this figure, but the CAC panel accepted it.
The panel also accepted the PDAU’s argument that membership of the PDAU among Boots pharmacists constituted support for de-recognition of the BPA.
The PDAU said it had 2,432 members among Boots pharmacists – 31.8% of the bargaining unit.
These two figures meant the 10% support test among Boots pharmacists had been met.
Assessing whether the majority of Boots pharmacists would support de-recognition of the BPA, the CAC panel argued that membership of the BPA among Boots pharmacists was in decline, while PDAU membership was increasing, and was much higher than BPA membership.
The panel also said Boots had been “vocal in its opposition to the PDAU in the UK, and the US parent company towards independent unions generally”.
The panel considered which side the 30-50% of Boots pharmacists who are members of neither the BPA nor the PDAU would be likely to support in a ballot. Much of the information it had to go on was “anecdotal and impressionistic”, but it ruled that because PDAU members could be assumed to support BPA de-recognition, only 18.2% of Boots pharmacists who were members of neither organisation would have to support de-recognition to produce a majority and the panel said this was likely.
Richard Bradley, pharmacy director of Boots UK, said: ”We are currently reviewing the CAC’s decision to fully understand why it believes that the application should proceed with such a low level of support pledged. We continue to believe that maintaining our relationship with the BPA and working with our Pharmacist Partnership Panel is the most inclusive way of making sure all our pharmacists have a voice.”
Timeline of events
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.
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.