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UPDATED: PDA ‘actively considers’ balloting NHS members over strike action

The Pharmacists’ Defence Association (PDA) is canvassing its members who are employed by the NHS for their opinion, before deciding whether it will hold the union's first ever ballot for industrial action.

In a statement last night (December 19), the union confirmed that it is “actively considering balloting [NHS-employed] members regarding strike action”.

A survey has been sent to more than 7,000 NHS-employed pharmacist members who are employed under NHS Agenda for Change contracts in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, PDA director Paul Day told C+D this morning (December 20). 

Read more: Pharmacy bodies hit back at government amid nurse strikes

“The experience of some other unions has shown that the government’s restrictive rules, designed to make it difficult for working people to lawfully take industrial action, means trade unions should test members’ strength of feeling before balloting,” the union added.

C+D has contacted the Department of Health and Social Care for comment.


What needs to happen for a strike to take place?


The PDA is again asking members in England, Wales and Northern Ireland “to show if their collective wish, in significant enough strength, is for strike action”, it said.

The survey has been emailed to all NHS-employed PDA members in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland and will close on January 3, 2023, the union confirmed.

PDA national officer Paul Moloney asked that NHS-employed members take the survey regardless of whether “they want to take industrial action, do not want to take action, or are unsure”.

He added: “If there is a subsequent ballot, it is essential that all records of where members are employed are up to date, so PDA members are also requested to access ‘MyPDA’ to check and, if necessary, update their membership record here.”

Under the Trade Union Act, for lawful industrial action to be taken, union postal ballots must meet three thresholds. At least 50% of eligible voters must vote; at least 40% of eligible voters must vote ‘yes’; and a majority of votes must be for ‘yes’.

Read more: ‘Critical situation’: PSNC moots reduced opening hours amid NHS strike chaos

Although the 50% threshold has been passed in some NHS trusts where certain healthcare professionals have been balloted, the PDA noted that “they too have fallen short of the turnout threshold at many NHS employers”.

In August, the PDA revealed that 80% of its members employed under Agenda for Change contracts would have rejected the NHS pay award.

Instead, 58% of those surveyed said would support the PDA in taking industrial action “if members of other unions were also planning to take action on this issue”, the union said.

“However, the turnout in that survey was not high enough to proceed to a formal ballot for strike action,” the PDA noted in its statement yesterday.

Read more: Why does striking seem to be the hardest word for community pharmacy?

It comes as the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) begins its second day of strike action today.

The action - the first in the RCN’s 106-year history – has seen picket lines drawn at 63 NHS hospital trusts in England, as well as all trusts in Northern Ireland and all but one health board – the Aneurin Bevan – in Wales.

Ambulance staff who are Unison members are also expected to strike tomorrow (December 21) and the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy is set to stage its first strike in the coming months.

Several other health unions are also currently balloting members over industrial action, amid ongoing pay disputes.

In July, when asked by C+D about community pharmacist’s rights to take their own strike action, Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee chief executive Janet Morrison conceded that contractors could “ultimately…decide if they, too, wanted to withhold their labour at any point”.

However, this would constitute a breach of their contract, she warned.


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