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What happens when a “sweetheart deal” leaves a sour taste?

17 February 2017 #Employee relations

The Court of Appeal has recently held that a collective agreement already in place with a non-independent trade union (a “sweetheart deal”) prevented an application by an independent trade union for compulsory recognition (Pharmacists’ Defence Association Union (PDAU) v Boots Management Services Ltd (Boots) and Secretary of State for Business Innovation and Skills).

Case History and Facts

In 2014, the High Court decided that the PDAU could not apply to the Central Arbitration Committee (CAC) for compulsory recognition because there was already a collective agreement in place between Boots (the employer) and a non-independent union, the Boots Pharmacists’ Association (BPA). This was despite the fact the BPA’s role was limited and did not include collective bargaining for certain key issues such as pay, hours or holiday.

Appealing to the Court of Appeal, the PDAU argued that Boots had entered into a “token recognition agreement with a tame in-house trade union in order to avoid having to deal with an independent union.” The PDAU claimed that refusing to allow them to apply to displace the BPA was a breach of Article 11 of the European Convention of Human Rights (which provides for the freedom of assembly and association) as it essentially made the exercise of Trade Union rights ineffective.

Outcome of the Appeal

The Court of Appeal dismissed the appeal and held that there was no breach of Article 11, since it was still open for workers themselves to apply for de-recognition of the non-independent union if they so wished. While the PDAU could support the workers if they wished to make an application themselves, the Court of Appeal made it clear that the workers had to make the application, not the union.

It will be interesting to see if the workers now apply separately to derecognise the BPA, or if they will stay with the sweetheart deal currently in place.

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Michael Hibberd

Michael Hibberd
Senior Solicitor

E: mhibberd@clarkslegal.com
T: 0118 953 3905
M: 0779 900 7511