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Court of Appeal delivers blow to PDA Union in Boots case

The Court of Appeal has backed Boots in its long-running battle with the Pharmacists' Defence Association (PDA) over who should represent the multiple’s employees.

The dispute dates back to January 2012, when the PDA Union called for official recognition from Boots, after claiming the multiple's employees were tired of their employment terms being "gradually eroded".

Last Friday (February 10), five years after the union's original application for a judicial review, the Court of Appeal upheld the High Court’s 2014 decision – which ruled that Boots’ refusal to recognise the PDA Union was lawful.

The High Court’s decision opened up the possibility of the PDA Union applying for the multiple’s own union, the Boots Pharmacists’ Association (BPA), to be formally “derecognised”. But the PDA Union would have to find a Boots pharmacist to support its application to end the BPA’s bargaining powers, the High Court judge said.

Fight for recognition

The Court of Appeal that the PDA Union “has a substantial membership among pharmacists employed by Boots”.

But in his concluding remarks, the presiding judge, Lord Justice Underhill, said that the PDA would have to find a “reasonably practicable route whereby the recognition of the PDA Union [by Boots] can be achieved, if the majority of the pharmacists want it”.

“There will inevitably be some choices which not only could have been made differently but could have been made better,” Justice Underhill said. But “it is clear from the case-law” that Boots is not in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights as the PDA Union claimed, Justice Underhill added.

Boots reacts

Justice Underhill described Boots’ latest win as “short-term”, as the PDA Union may well “take advantage of the statutory recognition procedure” that the High Court judge identified in his judgment in 2014.

A spokesperson for Boots said the multiple is considering the implications of the judgment, but the Court of Appeal’s decision “will clearly affect the PDA Union’s formal recognition application”.

“However, our commitment to our pharmacists remains the same,” the spokesperson added. “We want to continue to build great relationships between pharmacists, their line managers and their local team and, working with the Boots Pharmacists Association, continue to create the best working environment and provide even better care for our patients.”

The PDA Union was unavailable for comment at the time of going to press.

The PDA's battle with Boots for recognition: the story so far...

January 2012

The PDA Union asks Boots for formal recognition to allow it to represent its pharmacists after claiming the multiple's employees are seeing their employment rights "gradually eroded". Boots tells C+D it is working closely with the union on the issue.

March 2012

The PDA Union meets Boots to discuss its decision not to formally recognise the union, and threatens to take its case to the statutory adjudicator if the two sides cannot reach an agreement. Boots promises to give a final decision within three weeks.

April 2012

PDA Union general secretary John Murphy reveals Boots has stood by its decision not to recognise the union. He says the union will seek independent arbitration on the case from the Central Arbitration Committee (CAC).

January 2013

The CAC accepts the PDA Union's application on the condition that at least 10 per cent of Boots pharmacists are members of the union.

February 2013

Boots and the Boots Pharmacists' Association vow to fight the CAC's ruling through a judicial review in the High Court.

January 2014

The CAC rules support is high enough among Boots employees for the PDA Union to proceed. Later that month, the High Court rules Boots has no legal obligation to formally recognise the union, but invites the PDA Union to challenge the ruling. The PDA Union claims that the decision breaches European human rights legislation.

February 2014

The CAC halts the PDA Union's application for recognition until a final legal decision is made. The PDA Union files a request with the High Court, submitting that UK employment law is a breach of European human rights.

September 2014

The High Court rules that the UK and European laws are compatible, but the judge highlights a potential new avenue for the PDA Union to go down, in the form of pushing for derecognition of the BPA.

November 2016

The PDA Union appeals against the High Court ruling in the Court of Appeal, arguing that decision was "incompatible" with the European Convention on Human Rights and the Union should be allowed to proceed with its application for formal recognition.

February 2017

The Court of Appeal upholds the High Court decision.

If the PDA Union is successful, what impact might it have on the sector?

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