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Legal expert: No trade union law change any time soon


Legal expert: No trade union law change any time soon

A legal expert has warned it is unlikely that a “significant campaign” will be launched “any time soon” by any of the political parties to force a change in law making it less time-consuming for trade unions to end sweetheart arrangements and secure the right to represent employees on issues such as pay and working conditions.

Lee Jefcott (pictured), a partner at Brabners law practice, said the Pharmacists’ Defence Association Union’s (PDAU) recent call for recognition of a union to be established once a ballot has removed a sweetheart union arrangement would only be realised through an act of parliament.

The PDAU’s eight-year struggle to represent pharmacists at Boots culminated in a ballot victory over the healthcare giant in March and recognition for collective bargaining on behalf of those pharmacists.

It was the second time the PDAU had to go through a ballot process with Boots after its pharmacists voted to end their sweetheart union agreement with the Boots Pharmacists’ Association (BPA) last June.

The PDAU said it should have been granted union recognition after the first ballot de-recognising the BPA.

“The law should be changed so the (central arbitration committee) are able to order recognition for a union when a de-recognition ballot removes a sweetheart arrangement,” the PDAU’s national officer Paul Day said shortly after the ballot victory.

“Alternatively, the de-recognition ballot question could be expanded to explicitly ask if employees want to derecognise the sweetheart union in order to recognise the independent union.”

Jefcott, however, told ICP that the law has kept trade union recognition and de-recognition apart “for a good reason” and suggested there was no appetite among the Conservatives, Labour and other parties to change that.

“The PDA (Pharmacists’ Defence Association) contend that this long, expensive and technical process, with strict threshold requirements for a successful result, does not fairly balance the rights of workers with the interests of employers, and the law should be changed to make the process easier,” he said.

“The PDA suggest that where a ballot derecognises one union, the (central arbitration committee) should be able to order recognition of another union as part of the same process. Alternatively, the ballot itself could ask two questions: do you want to end arrangement A in order to have arrangement B?

“Could there be a change in the law to make the process easier and less time consuming for trade unions? There could be but it would require an act of parliament to do this. There are no current plans by any of the political parties to do this.”

Jefcott added: “Further, the change called for by the PDA may throw up some challenges. It is not always obvious that where one union is to be derecognised, there will be one single union who will be applying for recognition.

“The circumstances of the PDA application were quite unusual. The law has thus far kept the processes of der-recognition and recognition separate and that may be for a good reason.

“There is a clear mechanism to remove one trade union and replace it with another, albeit in the circumstances of the PDA case it turned out to be longwinded and cumbersome.

“Despite calls from the PDA, it seems unlikely that any significant campaign will be mounted for a change to this legislation anytime soon.”

In the wake of the Boots ballot victory, Day said he wanted “other chains to recognise us too,” prompting speculation the PDAU would try to secure union recognition of pharmacists at other chains.

Claire Ward, the director of public affairs at the PDA, also said that although she did not “foresee a rise in militancy amongst pharmacists,” it would not be the last time the PDAU secured legal recognition to represent pharmacists at a large company.




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