Boots employees could see their employment terminated if they refuse to agree to premium rate cuts and would have only a 50:50 chance of succeeding in a claim for unfair dismissal, the PDA Union has warned.
The union said there was "some risk" in employees rejecting the lower premium rates introduced at the health and beauty giant, despite an employment tribunal ruling them unlawful last month. The changes will mean employees receive time and a half on Sundays and single time on bank holidays.
Last week, the PDA Union claimed that senior Boots managers were arranging meetings with employees who had contested the rates, at which they told them they could face dismissal if they did not agree to the new terms within seven days. The news came as a poll of more than 300 C+D readers revealed that 89 per cent thought pharmacists should receive premium pay for Sundays and bank holidays.
The PDA Union has warned Boots pharmacists to be mindful that they could be formally dismissed from their jobs for refusing the revised contract
More news on the Boots premium pay dispute
But, while Boots argued that the PDA Union's claims were not accurate or fair, it said dismissal with an offer of re-engagement was "an appropriate and lawful option" open to the company where employees did not agree to the revised rates.
The PDA Union is in contact with approximately 150 Boots pharmacists looking to challenge the rate cuts and, in guidance to members, urged them to pursue claims for discrimination.
The union said employees could accept the cuts and make a statement to Boots that they felt under discrimination, which would still enable them to pursue their claims in tribunal proceedings. Alternatively, employees could reject the revised terms and conditions, but the union urged these members to give "careful consideration" to their decision.
"This strategy is not without some risk and the outcome cannot be accurately predicted at this stage," it said. "Pharmacists should be mindful that they would need to refuse to sign or agree to the new contracts and risk being formally dismissed and their employment with Boots ceasing."
The PDA Union went on to say that it could not guarantee a successful claim for unfair dismissal, but assured members it would invest "significant resources" in helping them to pursue their claims.
And law firm Charles Russell said it could not predict the amount of compensation that would be awarded in those unfair dismissal claims. "If an employee declines an offer of re-engagement [with the revised rates forming part of their contract] and successfully claims unfair dismissal, there is an argument that the employee has failed to mitigate their losses by refusing a position on substantially the same terms and conditions as their previous role," said Charles Russell associate Ben Smith. "This could impact on the amount of compensation awarded."
But Mr Smith stressed that Boots would also have to fulfil its legal obligations. While he said the company was within its rights to dismiss and re-engage employees on another contract, he said it would have to give adequate notice of the changes.
"Employers cannot unilaterally vary employees' terms and conditions of employment," Mr Smith told C+D. "If changes are required, employers should undertake a reasonable period of consultation with employees to seek their consent to the contractual variation."
One Boots employee told C+D they had found the dispute over pay "distressing". "A manager called me into a meeting on the Friday before the Jubilee bank holiday and asked me to agree to the changes there and then and sign a statement of particulars," they said. "I didn't sign so they said they wanted an answer by June 8."
"It was a shock and that weekend I didn't sleep – I was awake at two or three in the morning," they added. "I've got to pay for my kids going to university and it's an awful lot of money to lose."
Do you agree with the stand the PDA Union against Boots' premium pay cuts?