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‘Unlikely’ Boots can avoid redundancy for all staff in closing stores, PDA warns

The pharmacists’ union has said that it is “unlikely that suitable alternative roles will be available for all” as 300 Boots branches are set to close.

The Pharmacists’ Defence Association (PDA) has warned that it believes Boots may let go of some workers as part of its recently announced plans to close 300 stores.

On June 27, Boots announced that it would close 300 branches located “in close proximity to each other”, although it remains unclear which these are.

C+D understands that the 300 branches will close over the next 12 months and that more than 85% of these are within 5km of another, with 82% of people in the UK to remain within a 10-minute drive of a Boots store.

Read more: Boots reveals plans to close 300 branches

The multiple told C+D at the time that there will be no impact to pharmacy roles or other store roles, with full deployment opportunities for impacted team members.

But the PDA yesterday (July 4) told C+D that it believes “redundancy is a possibility for some” of the staff at the 300 stores earmarked for closure.

The union said that Boots had “insisted” that the “objective” of the closures was not to make pharmacists redundant, but the PDA claimed it is “unlikely that suitable alternative roles will be available for all”.

 

“Wider consequences”

 

And the union said that other than possible redundancies, it believed it was “likely” that the closures will have “wider consequences for other employees”.

This “significant” upheaval could come as consolidation of workload into nearby stores may “require additional resources, staffing and physical space in the pharmacy expected to absorb that extra volume”, the PDA added.

The PDA also flagged that demand for relief pharmacists “and other area roles may also reduce” as a result of the closures.

Read more: ‘Battle for survival’: All the reaction as Boots unveils plans to close 300 branches

PDA Union general secretary Mark Pitt said that the UK pharmacy network “will lose vital capacity at a time of great need”.

“This is a major closure programme of community pharmacies with more pharmacies expected to close than the 200+ Lloydspharmacy closures at Sainsbury’s announced earlier in the year,” he told C+D.

Read more: ‘Hugely disappointed’: Lloydspharmacy rejects Sainsbury’s redundancy appeal

Unlike pharmacy sales, closures mean that patients and communities “will see a reduction in availability”, he added.

But the PDA claimed that Boots pharmacists have been told that while the multiple will be “closing most” of the 300 pharmacies over the next year, it is “possibly selling a small number”.

 

“Continued dialogue”

 

Mr Pitt said that the PDA will be “working tirelessly to avoid job losses for pharmacists and protecting their interests”.

He added that “any uncertainty” should be minimised and “everyone…treated with respect and dignity”.

Mr Pitt said that affected pharmacists should be kept abreast of developments by Boots “as soon as local proposals are being considered”.

Read more: Boots trainee pharmacist pay tops out at £25k following uplift

This includes those who work in a pharmacy tipped for closure, those whose branch may see an increase to their workload and “any others impacted”, he added.

He said that Boots’ company briefings should provide “clear information” about local decisions and formal processes for redundancy consultations and for finding alternative roles within the company, among other things.

The PDA told C+D that as the recognised trade union, its officials were confidentially notified before the formal announcement.

Read more: UPDATED: Boots CFO Michael Snape quits after five years in role

It said that it will provide members with “information, support and representation” as the recognised union and that its officials “will be in continued dialogue with the company throughout this closure programme”.

But it stressed that while negotiations over issues such as pay can benefit PDA members and non-members alike, the “more tailored support” needed for redundancies was available to PDA members only.

It comes as the PDA yesterday (July 4) revealed that it had agreed an uplift to trainee pharmacist pay in England and Northern Ireland with Boots.

 

Boots: “Strong and stable”

 

A Boots spokesperson yesterday (July 4) reiterated that a “successful Boots transformation plan has created a strong and stable platform for growth and will accelerate further, including ongoing investment into the rejuvenation of the store estate”.

“In addition to uplifting existing stores, over the next year Boots will continue to consolidate a number of stores in close proximity to each other,” they said.

They added that “evolving the store estate in this way allows Boots to concentrate its team members where they are needed and focus investment more acutely in individual stores, with the ambition of consistently delivering an excellent and reliable service in a fresh and up to date environment.”

 

Pattern of closures

 

At the time of the announcement in late June, sector leaders reacted with dismay, saying that it reflected a wider pattern  of underfunding across the sector.

But in March, the government said that it had not considered the impact of funding on English community pharmacy closures since 2019, after analysis by the Company Chemists’ Association (CCA) showed in February that 720 pharmacies had closed for good in England since 2015.

Meanwhile, on June 12, C+D revealed that all 237 Sainsbury’s Lloydspharmacy branches would be closed for good by June 13, six months after a C+D exclusive announced that the multiple would withdraw from the supermarket during 2023.

Read more: DH discussions with Lloydspharmacy on Sainsbury's closure impact ongoing

The PDA raised a collective grievance with Lloydspharmacy, as staff that were made redundant were offered only statutory redundancy pay, rather than the enhanced redundancy benefits that the staff argued was their entitlement.

But the multiple rejected the PDA’s appeal to its decision on June 29, with any further action needing to go via the courts.

In total, over 250 pharmacies in supermarket chains will have closed by the end of this year, with multiple closures also announced at Tesco and Asda.

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