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Boots secures 'pyrrhic victory' in PDA Union recognition battle

Validation of the multiple's January success could pave the way for de-recognition of its Boots Pharmacists' Association, High Court judge warns

Boots has secured a "pyrrhic victory" in its long-running legal battle with the Pharmacists' Defence Association (PDA) Union, a High Court judge has ruled.

The multiple's refusal to recognise the PDA Union was within European law, judge Brian Keith decided at a hearing on September 12, which sought to determine whether Boots' High Court victory in January was valid.

But Sir Keith said the decision had paved the way for the PDA Union to apply for an end to bargaining arrangements between Boots and its own union, the Boots Pharmacists' Association.

Sir Keith's decision marked a u-turn on his comments in the High Court case in January, when he said Boots could be breaching European Union laws by failing to enter into collective bargaining with the PDA Union.

This argument was challenged by business secretary Vince Cable in this month's case. Mr Cable supported Boots' argument that there was no breach of law, as the PDA Union could formally seek de-recognition of the Boots Pharmacists' Association (BPA).

Sir Keith agreed that, if there was genuine support for the PDA Union, it would not be hard to make this happen. The union would only need to find one Boots pharmacist to support its case to terminate the multiple's relationship with the BPA, he highlighted.

Although Sir Keith recognised employees may fear being punished for siding with the union, he believed the PDA Union should be able to find someone "willing to put their head above the parapet". Failure to find such a pharmacist would be a likely indication that there was "insufficient support" for PDA Union representation among Boots' employees, he added.

PDA general secretary John Murphy said the union had always taken the "dignified" position of avoiding direct confrontation with the BPA.

Mr Murphy told C+D the union was "not absolutely clear" on what course of action it would take following this judgment, but said there were many options available and it was likely that the case would appear before the European Court of Human Rights.

Boots' director of pharamcy Peter Bainbridge said the High Court outcome proved the multiple had acted in accordance with European law.

The multiple "continued to respect" the rights of its pharmacists to join any trade union of their choice, but did not think formally recognising the PDA Union was in the sector's best interests, he added. "While there is much we can agree upon, the PDA see the future of pharmacy in a fundamentally different way to us," Mr Bainbridge said.

The PDA Union first called for formal recognition at Boots in 2012, when it claimed its employees' rights were being "gradually eroded".

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