There won't be a rise in militancy among pharmacists but the Boots ballot won't be the last time the Pharmacists' Defence Association Union tries to secure independent union representation, says Claire Ward...
After more than eight years and several hundreds of thousands of pounds, the Pharmacists’ Defence Association Union (PDAU) finally achieved legal recognition as the union representing pharmacists in Boots.
In some ways it was sad that so much time, effort and funds were expended to get to that position.
I have been a member of a trade union since I was 15. I don’t always agree with its political activities nor its current leadership (I am a member of Unite) but I fundamentally agree with the principle of trade union representation as a force for good.
When I qualified as a solicitor, I worked for a practice that primarily represented trade unions and their members in a variety of areas including employment law, personal injury and medical negligence. In those cases I saw how the individual member, with the support of their trade union in funding legal representation, achieved justice when too often it would have been out of their grasp.
In too many cases, employers had not given enough care and consideration to their employees’ rights and best interests. Too often there were cases that, with better processes and discussions, could have been avoided, the types of cases I see at the Pharmacists’ Defence Association in its role as a defence organisation and insurer.
The result of the Boots ballot was overwhelming and the initial reaction of Boots management has been a genuine recognition that it is time to move on and accept the view of their employees. Long may that continue.
Whatever the past relationship, a whole new opportunity awaits Boots and the PDA to work together for the benefit of employees and the company. It is not in the interests of PDA members for Boots to suffer as a business.
But it is also not in Boots’ interests for their staff to be unhappy and not feeling that their professional expertise is valued and appreciated. Good unions can work in partnership with employers to create a positive and fulfilling environment in which to work – in this case good for staff, the company and importantly, the patients.’
Right now the pharmacy sector needs all parts to work together. The environment is tough – funding cuts, changes to the way in which care is delivered, competition from market disrupters like Pharmacy2U and Amazon. The PDA wants its members to work in a place which values their healthcare expertise and professionalism and provides more opportunities for them to develop in their careers.
That is why the PDA has, over recent years, developed its role in policy-making and working with other parts of the sector including the PSNC and the National Pharmacy Association.
Boots is the largest pharmacy contractor and the first where the PDAU gained legal recognition to representation. I don’t believe it will be the last. Other large companies are already realising that it is only a matter of time before their pharmacists will seek the same benefits from being a member of a trade union.
Some larger contractors are already engaging voluntarily in discussions with PDAU because they want to work in partnership and make sure decisions they take are made, where possible, with the support of their employees.
I don’t forsee a rise in militancy amongst pharmacists. I don’t believe that we are seeing a new generation of Arthur Scargills. But I do believe pharmacists want to be treated with respect by their employers and have terms and conditions which are appropriate to their position as regulated healthcare professionals.
I believe that pharmacists, whether they work for multiples or independents, want their professional roles enhanced.
Independent contractors need not fear the start of what I predict will be increasing membership and recognition of the PDAU across pharmacy. They should embrace it and a see it as a way of building more collaboration across the pharmacy sector – employees and employers – to support the pharmacy profession to deliver the best care for patients.
Claire Ward is director of public affairs at the Pharmacists’ Defence Association.