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How are we growing a new union?

We all see pharmacists at work - from being in our community (chemist shops), hospitals, primary care, prisons, and GP practice. The landscape of working in pharmacy has changed from dramatically over a few generations. The industry has shifted from a landscape of mainly owner-operators to where a majority are employed or working as a locum. And until recently, nearly all were entirely not unionised.

Landmark cases highlighted how pharmacists were professionally vulnerable and prompted them to create the PDA. This acted as the pharmacists’ version of a defence union (which defend doctors and other health professionals against indemnity claims). However, with the changes in ownership, it quickly became apparent that most issues members needed support with related to their rights at work. Hence the PDA also became the PDAU.

The PDA now has over 32,000 members spread across all parts of practice in the public and private sectors. That is around 50% of employed and locum pharmacists in membership and it is still growing (+15% over the last two years). It is now one of the UK’s largest 25 unions.

Being new is a big challenge in both the world of pharmacy and of health sector unions which have structures and ways of working established long before the PDA existed. For example, we are still having to establish new relationships with employers, government, etc alongside undertaking current business, whereas many peer organisations will be engaged in longstanding and normalised processes.

Similarly, the PDA has brought unionism to workers and to employers for the first time, which means they too are learning what that means to their ways of working and opportunities for activism. There are no previous generations of representatives or agreements from which to learn or build.

Despite starting from scratch, with no arrangements with any employers, The PDA decided to adopt a strategy to obtain recognition at Boots, the largest employer in the sector for three main reasons:

(1) improvements to conditions at the largest employer could directly improve life for more than 10% of the profession;

(2) that the sheer scale would likely indirectly influence sectoral standards; and

(3) securing recognition at one of the largest global companies, who were hostile to trade unions and whose brand recognition in the UK was synonymous with “pharmacy” for many of the population, would give a strong message to other employers in the sector about the determination and ability of pharmacists to win union recognition.

More on how the PDAU gained union recognition here.

Since the Boots recognition campaign success, the PDA has not yet had to proceed to the ballot stage of any statutory recognition procedures and is now recognised by more than 20 employers, including the second largest community pharmacy employer, Lloyds Pharmacy.