After a six-year battle, 2019 will see the Pharmacist Defence Association (PDA) take on Boots head to head. There’s no shortage of bad press for Boots. In 2016, they were accused of abusing the Medicines Use Reviews (MUR) remuneration package from the NHS by forcing pharmacists to sign fraudulent forms. Then in 2018, they were under fire again for not staffing pharmacies appropriately and the high dispensing error rates. The companies own managers at the time admitted that the low staffing level was dangerous after three patients died as a result of staffing problems within the company. A BBC report found that some Boots pharmacists were “at breaking point”.
Why did the PDA choose to challenge Boots?
Boots is the largest employer of pharmacists in the UK, after the NHS. The PDA believes that if they can successfully challenge Boots, then the implications for the wider profession would be enormous. The collective power of Pharmacists would force national chains to listen and understand concerns of pharmacists and in turn lead to better pay and working conditions. This is known as collective bargaining power.
What’s the history with Boots and the PDA?
This has been going on since 2011 when the PDA contacted Boots asking them to voluntarily recognise the PDA as a union and allow them to represent pharmacists and trainees on issues such as working conditions, pay, hours and holiday, rather then the Boots Pharmacist Association (BPA). Boots refused. The PDA asked again in 2012, Boots refused again. Incidentally, in the same year Boots were then found guilty of docking pay of pharmacists illegally (courtesy of the PDA).
Later in 2012, the PDA launched a formal request to be recognised as a union by Boots. Boots asked the PDA to withdraw the formal request and carry out talks informally with them, which the PDA agreed to in good faith. The following month, without informing the PDA, Boots signed an agreement with the BPA. This agreement outlined the frequency of meetings, facilities for BPA officials, but expressly prohibited discussions on terms and conditions of employment. The PDA then restarted the formal process for recognition. Importantly, the BPA were refused a certificate of independence in May 2013, whilst the PDA were awarded the certificate three years prior in 2010.
By 2017, Boots own pharmacists were fed up and applied to derecognise the BPA and over 1000 Boots pharmacists supported the application. In April 2018, the ballot period for BPA derecognition commenced and by June 2018, 87% of those who voted, did so in favour of derecognising the BPA. Crucially the turnout was 41.02%. With the BPA derecognised, the PDA applied for recognition again. That brings us to 2019.
On 4th February 2019, a five-week ballot of Boots pharmacists and pre-registration pharmacists will commence. All store based and relief pharmacists, including advanced practitioners, care services pharmacists, pre-registration pharmacists, and pharmacist store managers at levels 5, 6 or 7 are eligible to vote. At least 40% of boots pharmacists need to vote in order for the PDA to be recognised as a union by Boots.
Why should I vote?
It is incumbent upon on all Boots Pharmacists to find out if they are eligible to vote, and if they are, then to cast their vote. By voting, you are making your discontent with your employer, your working conditions, and your pay known.
Why should I vote in favour of the PDA?
- The PDA will be able to represent all Boots pharmacists and work with the company to ensure better and safer working conditions. They will also be able to secure better terms of employment and stand up to management.
- Boots will have to respond to concerns expressed by the PDA. If the PDA isn’t satisfied, they can use the collective bargaining power to influence Boots to listen to employee concerns.
- The PDA is a not-for-profit organisation, run by pharmacists, for pharmacists to ensure working environments are safe. They defend members when they are faced with conflict at work.
- The PDA currently represents at least 28,000 pharmacists already, working in various different sectors of pharmacy practice – and lobby individual pharmacists agenda.
- The PDA has more members than the Royal Pharmaceutical Society.
When and how can I vote?
The ballot opens on 4th February 2019 and lasts five weeks. That means that last day to cast your vote is 8th March 2019. In order for the ballot to have any effect, at least 40% of Boots employees need to vote. Boots are counting on the 40% threshold not being met. So much so, they haven’t defended their position at all. Boots pharmacists need to unite, to show companies that pharmacists say #NoToExploitation.
What should I do to ensure I can vote?
Before 4th February 2019, make sure all your contact details are all correct on the Boots systems – your ballot paper will be sent to your home address. The ballot period commences on 4th February 2019 and ballot papers will be distributed as soon as the Qualified Independent Person (QIP) has an up to date list of all eligible voters’ names and addresses from Boots. Boots have until the 10th working day of the ballot period to provide that information (this would be 15th February 2019). That means there are only 15 days for ballot papers to be distributed, completed and returned. If you don’t receive your ballot paper, you need to contact the PDA for advice (no information about this has been given by the Central Arbitration Committee yet).
Share this article far and wide. Any and all Boots pharmacist’s need to know about this, and should be casting their vote. If less than 40% vote “YES” to recognition then Boots pharmacists will have lost a hard-fought opportunity for improved working conditions and they will be blocked from trying again for three years, so everyone’s participation is essential, and we all need to do all we can to get our colleagues to vote!
Put a reminder in your calendar now for the 18th February to vote for recognition of the PDA union at Boots! Don’t miss your chance to have a say in your working conditions and pay!
Author: Wajeeha Mir MPharm