In June, 47% of 6,890 eligible registered and pre-registration pharmacists voted on whether they wanted Boots’ own union – the Boots Pharmacists’ Association (BPA) – “derecognised”, so that their pay, hours and working conditions could be negotiated by a union of their choice.
A total of 2,826 voted in favour – just 70 more than needed to meet the legal threshold. The PDA Union – which campaigned for the vote – said at the time that it could “now proceed with steps to get statutory recognition at the employer”, potentially bringing an end to the long-running legal dispute between the two organisations.
The Central Arbitration Committee (CAC) – the independent body responsible for resolving workplace disputes – decided last week (September 28) that all but “support office and field-based” pharmacists will be included in the “bargaining unit” which will vote on whether to be represented by the PDA Union (see the full decision here).
More than 6,000 included in vote
Both Boots and the PDA Union agreed that approximately 5,400 “store-based pharmacists, relief pharmacists, care service pharmacists and advanced practitioner pharmacists at levels 5, 6 and 7”, the CAC said. Approximately 1,000 branch managers should also be included in the bargaining unit, it concluded.
It had “no hesitation” in also including approximately 350 pre-registration pharmacists, as “they work alongside and share the characteristics of their qualified colleagues in store, and [their] hours, holiday and rostering arrangements are all aligned”, the CAC added.
However, the CAC admitted that “the trickiest groups of workers to consider are the support office and field-based pharmacists, who are required to be pharmacists” for their role.
It concluded that approximately 150 support office pharmacists who mainly work at Boots' headquarters in Nottingham, and field-based pharmacists – who the CAC said travel between Boots branches – “are not an easy fit with the store-based pharmacists”, and so it “would not be appropriate” to include them in the bargaining unit.
Four pharmacists who are directly employed by Boots’ parent company, Walgreens Boots Alliance, and seven qualified pharmacists who have moved into HR and other roles that do not require a pharmacy qualification, have also been excluded.
PDA: "Hundreds" missing out
Commenting on the CAC’s decision, PDA Union assistant general secretary Mark Pitt said while the Union is “pleased”, “there are still hundreds of pharmacists…who will be excluded from any ballot because Boots does not want them to be represented by an independent trade union”, he claimed.
Boots: "Pleased" patient-facing pharmacists will get to vote
Andrew Caplan, pharmacy and retail stores operations director at Boots, said: "We are pleased that the CAC largely agreed with us, that the most workable bargaining unit was one that was made up of pharmacists in patient-facing roles.
"I remain confident that Boots and Boots pharmacists can be stronger working more closely together, rather than through a third party.
"As we have always said, we respect the right of our colleagues to be members of a trade union of their choice," Mr Caplan stressed.
The CAC will now perform “validity tests” on the new bargaining unit before a vote can go ahead, a spokesperson for the organisation told C+D.
C+D spoke exclusively to one of the six Boots pharmacists whose actions sparked the formal “derecognition” of the BPA. Read why they did it here.
*This article was updated on October 3 to include Boots' comment.