Something is wrong when an organisation representing workers opposes collective bargaining

Something is wrong when an entity, which is supposed to represent workers, can sign an agreement with management committing to only “collective bargain” resources for their own officials and committing not to collective bargain for the employment terms of their members.

It’s worse when in law this is enough to block an independent trade union from following the statutory process for recognition at that employer. But this is what happened at Boots when the company signed an agreement with the “Boots Pharmacists Association” (BPA) in 2012.  

 The BPA is on the certification officer’s list, but it is not independent.  BPA was refused a certificate of independence in 2013.  Part of the certification officer’s decision said: “looking at the picture as a whole that there emerges, in my judgement, a clear image of a union that has over the years been drawn into a situation in which it is indeed liable to interference by Boots… tending towards domination or control.”. 

Boots is the largest and most well-known community pharmacy business in the UK. The multi-billion pound global enterprise is a vertically integrated business profiting from both wholesale and retail sales of medicines, with much of that coming from the taxpayer via the NHS.  The current owners and senior management have spent seven years preventing their pharmacists from having an independent voice at work through the PDA Union. This includes the blocking agreement signed in secret with BPA at a time the company was simultaneously talking to PDA Union about statutory recognition.  

The good news is that the pharmacists have never given up and last summer six pharmacists, supported by PDA Union, applied to the Central Arbitration Committee to have the Boots-BPA agreement ended.   Over 1,000 more employees pledged online to support the application, and after a further legal hearing at which the company and BPA’s joint attempt to give votes to senior managers (if they are a registered pharmacist) was overcome, a ballot is about to be held of almost 7,000 pharmacists working in Boots stores to end the blocking agreement.

The law under which this ballot is happening has never been used before and the union must achieve 40% of those eligible to vote, to vote in support, hence their #2780pharmacists campaign hashtag.

Sadly, this is not such a unique scenario, and other independent trade unions face similar situations. There is a need to stop management and their sweetheart unions from blocking an independent voice at work for employees, and the trade union movement should welcome a government that will improve the legal position on this.  But in the meantime, I hope that trade unionists across the movement will support the efforts of the PDA Union and our members.

  • Paul Day is national officer for the PDA Union


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