High Court favours Boots in representation fight, but union to appeal in Europe

The Pharmacists’ Defence Association Union fails to gain collective bargaining rights for Boots’ nearly 7,000 pharmacists in a case dating back to 2012.

Storefront of Boots pharmacy

The Pharmacists’ Defence Association Union (PDAU) has lost the latest round in its battle to win the right to represent almost 6,900 Boots pharmacists in a battle over pay and hours following a High Court ruling on 12 September 2014.

But the union immediately announced it would appeal the decision at the European Court of Human Rights. Pivotal to its appeal is its contention that failure to allow it to represent the Boots pharmacists breaches the pharmacists’ human rights.

John Murphy, the union’s general secretary, said after the hearing: “Our quarrel was not with the Boots Pharmacists’ Association [another trade union which represents Boots pharmacists]. We simply believe that Boots pharmacists should not have the right to have their terms and conditions negotiated by a union taken away from them by their employer. We believe that this is a breach of their human rights.”

The High Court rejected the application by the PDAU that UK trade union law was incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights. If the application had been accepted it could have paved the way for Parliament to review existing UK trade union law.

Rejecting the application, as part of its judicial review ruling, the court deemed that the PDAU was able to use existing UK legislation to settle its dispute with Boots.

The court told the PDAU that under existing law it was able to go to the Central Arbitration Committee (CAC) —­ a statutory and independent organisation which settles disputes between trade unions — to seek an end to the existing bargaining agreement between Boots and the Boots Pharmacists’ Association (BPA).

But, in a written judgment, high court judge Sir Brian Keith said: “Boots’ success on its claim may prove to be a pyrrhic victory. It is now open to the PDAU through one of Boots’ pharmacists to apply to the CAC for the ending of the bargaining arrangements between Boots and the BPA.”

If that application is successful then the PDAU can apply again for statutory recognition without fear of its application “being trumped” by trade union legislation, he said.

After the court decision, a statement from Boots UK director of pharmacy, Peter Bainbridge, said the ruling confirmed that the company acted in accordance with UK law and European legislation.

“We continue to respect the right of all colleagues to become members of a trade union of their choice, however we don’t believe that union recognition of the PDAU is in the best interests of the future of pharmacy,” he said.

Bainbridge said the Pharmacists’ Defence Association “sees the future of pharmacy in a fundamentally different way to us”.

He said Boots prefers to “maintain a direct dialogue with our pharmacists” and that their views and opinions “are best heard and addressed locally, with a collective voice through our existing channels”.

But the company still wants to have “an ongoing constructive relationship with the PDAU on professional matters”.

Long history on collective bargaining

The ruling is the latest stage in a row between the PDAU and Boots over trade union recognition that dates back to 2012. The PDAU wants the right to represent Boots pharmacists for collective bargaining on pay, hours and holidays.

In January 2013, the CAC gave the PDAU the right to progress its application to represent the pharmacists.

Boots, however, objected to the decision on the grounds that it would prefer the profession to be represented by the BPA. 

Boots sought a judicial review of the CAC decision and, at the interim judicial review hearing in January this year, the court gave the PDAU the right to seek a “declaration of incompatibility” application. The application was considered by the court on 12 September 2014 as part of its judicial review ruling.

Last updated
The Pharmaceutical Journal, PJ, 27 September 2014, Vol 293, No 7829;293(7829):DOI:10.1211/PJ.2014.20066493

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