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Court of Appeal delivers blow to PDA Union in Boots case

Lord Justice Underhill: The PDA will have to find a "reasonably practicable route" to recognition if Boots employees want it

The Court of Appeal has backed Boots in its long-running battle with the Pharmacists' Defence Association (PDA) over who should represent the multiple’s employees.

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

Last Friday (February 10), five years after the union's original application for a judicial review, the Court of Appeal upheld the High Court’s 2014 decision – which ruled that Boots’ refusal to recognise the PDA Union was lawful.

The High Court’s decision opened up the possibility of the PDA Union applying for the multiple’s own union, the Boots Pharmacists’ Association (BPA), to be formally “derecognised”. But the PDA Union would have to find a Boots pharmacist to support its application to end the BPA’s bargaining powers, the High Court judge said.

Fight for recognition

The Court of Appeal that the PDA Union “has a substantial membership among pharmacists employed by Boots”.

But in his concluding remarks, the presiding judge, Lord Justice Underhill, said that the PDA would have to find a “reasonably practicable route whereby the recognition of the PDA Union [by Boots] can be achieved, if the majority of the pharmacists want it”.

“There will inevitably be some choices which not only could have been made differently but could have been made better,” Justice Underhill said. But “it is clear from the case-law” that Boots is not in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights as the PDA Union claimed, Justice Underhill added.

Boots reacts

Justice Underhill described Boots’ latest win as “short-term”, as the PDA Union may well “take advantage of the statutory recognition procedure” that the High Court judge identified in his judgment in 2014.

A spokesperson for Boots said the multiple is considering the implications of the judgment, but the Court of Appeal’s decision “will clearly affect the PDA Union’s formal recognition application”.

“However, our commitment to our pharmacists remains the same,” the spokesperson added. “We want to continue to build great relationships between pharmacists, their line managers and their local team and, working with the Boots Pharmacists Association, continue to create the best working environment and provide even better care for our patients.”

The PDA Union was unavailable for comment at the time of going to press.

The PDA's battle with Boots for recognition: the story so far...

January 2012

The PDA Union asks Boots for formal recognition to allow it to represent its pharmacists after claiming the multiple's employees are seeing their employment rights "gradually eroded". Boots tells C+D it is working closely with the union on the issue.

March 2012

The PDA Union meets Boots to discuss its decision not to formally recognise the union, and threatens to take its case to the statutory adjudicator if the two sides cannot reach an agreement. Boots promises to give a final decision within three weeks.

April 2012

PDA Union general secretary John Murphy reveals Boots has stood by its decision not to recognise the union. He says the union will seek independent arbitration on the case from the Central Arbitration Committee (CAC).

January 2013

The CAC accepts the PDA Union's application on the condition that at least 10 per cent of Boots pharmacists are members of the union.

February 2013

Boots and the Boots Pharmacists' Association vow to fight the CAC's ruling through a judicial review in the High Court.

January 2014

The CAC rules support is high enough among Boots employees for the PDA Union to proceed. Later that month, the High Court rules Boots has no legal obligation to formally recognise the union, but invites the PDA Union to challenge the ruling. The PDA Union claims that the decision breaches European human rights legislation.

February 2014

The CAC halts the PDA Union's application for recognition until a final legal decision is made. The PDA Union files a request with the High Court, submitting that UK employment law is a breach of European human rights.

September 2014

The High Court rules that the UK and European laws are compatible, but the judge highlights a potential new avenue for the PDA Union to go down, in the form of pushing for derecognition of the BPA.

November 2016

The PDA Union appeals against the High Court ruling in the Court of Appeal, arguing that decision was "incompatible" with the European Convention on Human Rights and the Union should be allowed to proceed with its application for formal recognition.

February 2017

The Court of Appeal upholds the High Court decision.

If the PDA Union is successful, what impact might it have on the sector?

Han Solo MPharm The coolest pharmacist in the galaxy , Locum pharmacist

In response to the above question, would the PDA have any impact on the sector?

A fair prediction would be, probably very little. 

All the PDA will do is fight for better working conditions but will be powerless to stop an oversupply of Pharmacists which is the real problem which is why wages, working conditions are being eroded in the first place.

It’s like saying, "we will stop endangered wildlife being killed by building better fences." Poachers will always find a way in.

You need to stop the market for poachers.

Han Solo MPharm The coolest pharmacist in the galaxy , Locum pharmacist

I sometimes think you guys are so gullible. Why do people actually think these organisations care about them? These organisations are there to give you the illusion of protection and value, but in reality we are all slaves to the corporate pharma machine. The heads of these organisations report to the same corporate machine that employs us all.

I’ve said this before, the only way we can bring any change about is through political pressure. We are already on our way there, we have finalised a divorce with the EU and now hopefully we will have full withdrawal from the Single market. Boots i mean Walgreens certainly is annoyed at Brexit.

Pharmacists are just one of many working people up and down the country that are being destroyed by the EU. We are being destroyed by EU+US pharma greed to be more precise. 

I sometimes think the GPhC is being held hostage by Bankers, Goldman Sachs et al.  The problem with bankers is that they think workforces are commodities to replace or expand at will, no regard to work life quality, professional standards. 

EU pharmacists are also part of the problem, word of mouth amongst professionals is that they are being employed in London for £10/11 per hour. Good luck to a British Graduate getting a good stable or permanent job there.

Instead of scorning EU pharmacists, we perhaps need to take a look at some of our own who would rather employ them for such low wages than give British Pharmacists a fair wage. We can thank the EEA and its free movement for this.

Arun Bains, Community pharmacist

I wonder if a freedom of information request could be made to discover who is who in the editorial team at C&D.

Sharon Stone, Communications

*This comment has been deleted for breaching C+D's community principles*

John Dow, Advertising

Your comment was correct Sharon. I contacted a significant number of Boots pharmacists who said the  general working conditions could impinge on patient safety and that they wished to leave at the first instance!

Sarah Smythe, Information Technology

There was nothing wrong with  Sharons comment. Editor doesn't want to upset the great professional Boots ( Editors supposed to be impartial--yeahhh right )

Yuna Mason, Sales

Has Boots been in touch with the C&D to get them to remove the comment? I couldn't see anything wrong with it.

Sharon Stone, Communications

There wasn't Yuna. Its the fact that the truth hurts and the C & D do a dis-service to pharmacy being a Boots sycophant .



Yuna Mason, Sales

I think the BPA executives don't see themselves as part of the problem. It seems they think they're doing a really good job, because Boots tells them so.

Meera Sharma, Community pharmacist

Completely agree with you Clive - if any Boots pharmacist out there values their work-conditions and is prepared to prevent further erosion, then resign from the BPA and join PDA. The BPA are completely powerless to enforce or question anything. I was one of the pharmacists affected by their lunch-time policy, which was a complete joke. The BPA were powerless to do anything about it - they didn't even raise it as an item in their correspondence, at a time when the PDA did a whole article on what was going on. Boots pharmacists should think about the future consequences of not doing anything.

Clive Hodgson, Community pharmacist

If the Boots Pharmacist Association (BPA) really cared about the interests of Boots Pharmacists then they should consider dissolution to leave the way clear for the PDA. 

The BPA, I fear, are in a hopelessly compromised position being unable to negotiate pay and conditions and only recognised by Boots management because of their lack of power and also, just by their existence, help in keeping out the PDA. They should reflect on how they are being used......assuming they are actually independent from Boots management.

Boots Pharmacists could help themselves right now by resigning from the BPA and joining the PDA otherwise I think future attacks on pay and conditions are inevitable. Unionisation with the PDA is their only defence.

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