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Boots pharmacists given deadline to decide union future

Boots sign
Boots: We will make sure all our pharmacists have the information needed to vote

Boots pharmacists in predominantly patient-facing roles will have two weeks to vote on which union negotiates their pay, hours and working conditions.

The vote could signal a significant step in the long-running dispute between the multiple and the Pharmacists’ Defence Association (PDA) Union.

Six Boots pharmacists lodged a legal challenge to formally “derecognise” the multiples’ own union, the Boots Pharmacists’ Association (BPA), with the Central Arbitration Committee (CAC) – the independent body responsible for resolving workplace disputes – in July 2017.

The dispute dates back to January 2012, when the PDA Union called for official recognition from Boots, after alleging the multiple's staff employment terms were being "gradually eroded".

The CAC decided in February that Boots pharmacists in “predominantly” patient-facing roles would be balloted to decide which union will represent them, once a “qualified independent person” was appointed to oversee the votes.

On Wednesday (April 25), the CAC gave eligible Boots pharmacists two weeks – between May 10-23 – to cast their vote to “decide whether the BPA union is to be derecognised”.

Commenting on the start of the ballot period, Boots pharmacy director Richard Bradley said the multiple will make sure “that our pharmacists have all the information they need to make an informed decision should they wish to vote on whether or not to derecognise the BPA”.

PDA: We need 2,780 votes

The PDA Union has previously called on Boots pharmacists to help it reach the 40% threshold – which amounts to 2,780 individuals – needed to “win the vote” to derecognise the BPA. This will mean the union will be able to apply to “negotiate over pay, hours and other working conditions for Boots pharmacists and pre-registration graduates”, the PDA Union said.

General secretary John Murphy said pharmacists working for the UK's largest multiple “aren’t just voting to improve their own situation, but can help set a precedent for their professional colleagues across the sector”.

BPA chief executive Paul Robinson called on the pharmacists casting their vote to “consider [the BPA’s] proven track record of achieving results on their behalf”.

“As Boots employees, the BPA understands exactly what the issues are and how best to deal with them for the benefit of our members,” he added.

Where do the parties stand in the legal challenge?

Boots: The current arrangement is the most inclusive way for pharmacists to have a voice

“We respect the right of our colleagues to belong to a union of their choice. We believe that our existing recognition agreement with the BPA covers all pharmacists across the company and that all of those colleagues should be entitled to have their say.

“We continue to believe that maintaining our relationship with the BPA and working with our pharmacist partnership panel is the most inclusive way of making sure all our pharmacists have a voice.

“We’re pleased that...the CAC ultimately decided that nearly 7,000 pharmacists working for Boots will have a vote in the ballot. This means that all registered and pre-registration pharmacists working for Boots at levels 5, 6 and 7 at the time of the ballot will be eligible to vote, should they choose to participate.”

BPA: We’re proud of the achievements we have secured over 40 years

“The BPA has been supporting its members and working to ensure that the voice of Boots pharmacists is heard at the most senior level within the organisation for over 40 years. BPA membership is open to all Boots employees who are registered as a pharmacist with the General Pharmaceutical Council, as well as all pre-registration graduates employed by Boots.

“The BPA believes that its current collective bargaining agreement with Boots delivers an extremely effective means of working collaboratively to achieve solutions that improve the working environment for Boots pharmacists and deliver business benefits for Boots.

“As a result of BPA action, Boots pharmacists already benefit from market-leading employer pension contributions, additional payments for training for Boots-specific initiatives and above-market pay rises. We want to continue to support our colleagues in this way and urge all pharmacists to vote in favour of maintaining our recognition agreement with Boots.”

PDA Union: A legally-binding agreement with us would strengthen pharmacists’ influence

“Boots pharmacists and pre-registration graduates now have a rare opportunity to gain greater influence over their working lives. Presently an agreement between Boots and the BPA blocks all pharmacists from collectively negotiating over important work issues.

“The PDA Union currently represents individual members in disciplinary or grievance hearings and has an excellent record in this area. Pharmacists tell us they want the PDA Union to collectively represent their interests to Boots and build upon this success. If the ballot is successful, pharmacists can choose to have the PDA Union secure bargaining rights over pay, hours and working conditions.

“Market-based pay, high workload, lunchbreaks and holiday allocation are some of the areas that concern pharmacists. A legally-binding collective bargaining agreement between Boots and the PDA Union would considerably strengthen the influence pharmacists have within the company and help protect and enhance their terms and conditions in the future.”

Are you a Boots pharmacist currently represented by the BPA?

M Yang, Community pharmacist

2,780 votes is achievable and (for anyone who doesn't already know) the ballot papers will be sent to home addresses for Boots pharmacists to fill in privately, so no tampering or coercion from management at Boots.

I noticed that pharmacists in non patient facing/office roles are also included in the ballot. If turnout among the patient facing rank and file pharmacists (who form the majority of that company's pharmacist population) is high enough, then  the derecognition of the BPA should go through. Boots pharmacists can safely cast their vote and won't need to fear retribution in this secret ballot.

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