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PDA: Community pharmacists cannot be used to ‘undermine’ NHS strike action

The Pharmacists’ Defence Association (PDA) has told C+D that the government cannot use community pharmacists to “undermine” strike action in the NHS – as it moves to a formal ballot of its members in Northern Ireland.

The PDA will proceed to a formal ballot of Northern Ireland pharmacists on industrial action, it announced yesterday (January 23).

However, no formal ballot can currently go ahead in England or Wales due to legal restrictions – despite evidence of a “clear” and “overwhelming” desire for industrial action across the board, it said.

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

PDA director Paul Day told C+D that the ballot will not apply to community pharmacy colleagues but to members employed by the NHS on “agenda for change” contracts – essentially hospital pharmacists.

He warned that only those “lawfully balloted” can strike – if the formal ballot is won – as others won’t be protected from disciplinary action or dismissal by law.

“However, we expect community pharmacist colleagues will resist any attempts by government to use them to undermine any action by those in the NHS,” he added.

 

Ballot results

 

The PDA surveyed members over industrial action last month, with the results to inform a decision on whether to move to a formal ballot.

More than 2,000 pharmacists took part in the survey and the “overwhelming view of those responding was clear”, the union said.

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

The results showed:
  • In England, 79% voted for “industrial action short of a strike” and 84% for strike action
  • Wales had a similar view, with 88% voting for action short of a strike and 70% for strike action
  • In Northern Ireland, 97% supported action short of a strike and 94% voted in favour of a strike

However, movement to a formal ballot would need at least 50% of members to take part and at least 40% of those to vote in favour of industrial action, the PDA said.

Turnout was 80% in Northern Ireland so “the PDA Union National Executive Committee has authorised an industrial action ballot to be run among members in this country”, it added.

 

No ballot in England and Wales “at this time”

 

But in England and Wales, the turnout for the survey was just 32% in each country, the union said, meaning the threshold was not reached for a formal ballot.

This is despite “extremely high majorities” of those voting being “in favour of rejecting the pay award and for taking industrial action”, it added.

“A ballot will therefore not be held among members employed in the NHS in England or among members employed in the NHS in Wales, at this time,” the PDA said.

Read more: ‘Last man standing’: How will NHS strike action affect community pharmacy?

“Although the PDA Union believes these restrictions are unfair, bureaucratic, and designed to make exercising the right to take industrial action difficult, it is not an option for the PDA Union to ignore the legislation,” it added.
 
The PDA warned that politicians and NHS decision-makers should note the pro-strike sentiment among its English and Welsh members, however, and that this is “a consequence solely of the restrictive legislation that governs industrial action in the UK” that is preventing ballots to strike in those countries.
 
Members in England and Wales could still face “further consultations” over support for industrial action if there are “changes to the NHS pay award or if this dispute continues”, it said.

 

“Pharmacists are angry”

 

Mr Day told C+D that pharmacists in the NHS “are angry about the situation they are faced with, and that they have been forced to consider industrial action in order to get government to act on the current crisis”.

Further communications will explain when and how a strike will occur if the forthcoming formal ballot results in strike action being organised, he said.

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

“All pharmacists, as healthcare professionals, will of course always be concerned for patient safety throughout,” he added.

And the union said that it “recognises” that “many members, including those who do not want to take strike action, are unhappy with NHS pay across the UK”.

Read more: ‘Final straw’ as transitional payments to be cut to zero from February, PSNC says

 

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