Prospect Optometrist and Dispensing Optician Trade Union Branch ‘POTU’
Trade Union Introduction and FAQ
“Everyone has the right to freedom of association with others including the right to form and to join a trade union.”
Article 11 - The right to freedom of assembly and association- The Human Rights Act 1998
Key events that have lead to OPG formation
Aug 2019- A trailblazer group made up of high street optical chains, amongst others, proposed standards for an apprenticeship in optometry (See current issues).
Nov 2019- The General Optical Council (GOC) gave provisional approval for a new optometry programme at Teesside University - an increase in the number of universities offering the Optometry course to 16.
March 2020- The UK government announced lockdown due to the Coronavirus pandemic. Employed Optometrists reported forced changes to contractual terms, colleagues were placed at risk of redundancies due to store closures. Self employed practitioners reported large corporations were cutting wages significantly.
March 2020- GOS fee freeze confirmed for fifth consecutive year.
Our board advisory members include:
Academic Optometrists, Locum Optometrists, Independent Director Optometrists, Employed Optometrists, Optometrists with portfolio careers e.g dual trained Optometrist and accountants, dual trained Optometrist and Medical Doctors, Dispensing Opticians, students, Trade Union representatives from ‘PDA’ Pharmacy Defence Association.
1. Trade Unions- A brief history
Trade unions started with the industrialisation of the late 18th and the 19th centuries, which drew thousands of workers together in towns and cities who lived and worked in poverty.
The success of British industry in the hundred years from 1780, was built on the exploitation of hundreds of thousands of workers who worked 14 to 18 hours a day for miserable wages in unsafe factories and lived in bare and comfortless homes.
Throughout history, trade unions have campaigned for paid holidays, maternity rights, paid sick leave and an end to child labour. They have fought for equal pay, better health and safety regulation and fighting workplace discrimination
2. What is the OPG and why did you form?
The Ophthalmic Practitioners Group ‘OPG’ is a networking, advisory and peer support group which was formed after a proposal for an ‘Optometry Apprenticeship’ by a ‘Trailblazer’ group of high street chain employers within the Optical Sector.
Through consultation and engagement with the profession, several requests were made for an independent trade union for Optometrists and Dispensing Opticians. OPG acted on these requests and took on the challenge of creating the first official trade union for Optometrists and Dispensing Opticians in the UK.
OPG has taken on the concerns of the profession and arranged meetings with key stakeholders including the College of Optometrists, The General Optical Council and The AIO (Association of Independent Opticians) to ensure an independent, unbiased view of the Optometrist on the ground is heard.
3. What is a trade union?
A trade union is a membership-based organisation- its membership must be made up mainly of workers. One of a trade union's main aims is to protect and advance the interests of its members in the workplace. Trade unions are independent of any employer.
The typical activities of trade unions include providing assistance and services to their members, collectively bargaining for better pay and conditions for all workers, working to improve the quality of public services, political campaigning and industrial action.
4. What is an independent trade union?
Section 5 of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992 (“the 1992 Act”) defines an independent trade union as: “… a trade union which –
(a) is not under the domination or control of an employer or group of employers or of one or more employers’ associations, and
(b) is not liable to interference by an employer or any such group or association (arising out of the provision of financial or material support or by any other means whatsoever) tending towards such control”.
In 2016, the IMF showed that trade unions are key to the fight against economic inequality. Last year, researchers at the Bank of England showed that while the rise of big firms that dominate a sector can push pay down, trade unions act to protect workers’ wages against the power of the big companies.
5. How is an independent trade union registered?
This document contains the names of all trade unions entered on the list maintained by the Certification Officer under section 3 of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992. It also contains the names of all trade unions known to the Certification Officer that meet the statutory definition of a trade union.
6. Why does a trade union need to be certified to be on the independent trade union register?
The Certification officer needs to ensure that the union meets the definition of an independent trade union i.e is it under domination or control of an employer, and secondly is it liable to interference by financial provision e.g. advertising revenue, corporate membership fees, etc.
7. Why have we joined a trade union rather than making our own grassroots trade union?
The OPG advisory team spent several months weighing up the benefits and risks that need to be taken into account when forming a grassroots trade union. Due to cost implications, we felt that the best option for the members was to join an already established union ‘Prospect’ to form Prospect Optometry Branch.
Prospect trade union has pan-sector experience and a largely professional membership of 145,000, ranging from engineers, scientists, air traffic controllers, vetinary medicine and civil servants.
Many of these sectors were previously ‘non-unionzed’ and the employees in these sectors often work under similar conditions and have similar workplace concerns and objectives. An example is the air traffic controllers branch which has a 98% union density i.e 98% of employees are union members.
8. When can you offer indemnity and defence insurance for Optometrists?
At present OPG or POTU do not offer indemnity insurance or defence insurance, however our members have expressed a desire for alternative options for indemnity and defence packages.
We seek to offer these membership services and others, including CET/CPD and networking events for Optometrists both retail and locums. In doing so, we must first establish the correct legal framework and have suitable financial provision. The timeline for this is not clear at present.
9. What is Prospect Trade Union?
Prospect is a democratic organisation with a proud 100-year history of being run by members, for members. Prospect employ more than 50 full-time negotiators who act on your behalf, teams of pensions, legal and education experts, as well as policy, communications and organising colleagues.
Prospect negotiate with more than 300 employers on a range of issues that affect working life:
· Legal advice and assistance on employment matters:
10. Are trade unions common in medical fields?
At the time of writing, there is currently no independent trade union for Optometrists.
Other unions that we are aware of are: BMA (British Medical Association - the official trade union for Doctors), for Pharmacists it is the Pharmacy Defence Association (PDA), and in Dentistry it is the British Dental Association (BDA).
For Orthoptists it is the British Orthoptic Society Trade Union (BOSTU).
The Optical Retail Directors Association (ORDA) is an association recognised as a trade union by Specsavers Optical Group representing Specsavers directors, who are association members, that attend at any Investigation and/or disciplinary hearings.
‘Trade unions: the current list and schedule’ contains the names of all trade unions entered on the list maintained by the Certification Officer under section 3 of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992.
11. What have trade unions achieved in other sectors e.g. Pharmacy?
In our development of a trade union, we consulted with the PDA to understand how they have achieved a strong and powerful voice for Pharmacists, as the sectors often share similar workplace pressures and patterns of employment, particularly in high street chains.
Boots UK and the PDA signed an official voluntary recognition agreement in 2019. This means the PDAU will now have collective bargaining rights for negotiation on pay, hours and holiday, as well as consultative meetings on a range of topics, representing PDA members who are store-based Boots pharmacists and pre-registration pharmacists.
Within Boots, there is now a PDA Union network of representatives.
Quotes from Boots PDA representatives:
“I have to be honest and say although I knew trade union members could call already on the PDA union for support if they personally encountered difficult times, I hadn’t fully appreciated what recognition would mean in practice. I care about my colleagues and so when I saw the opportunity to support my professional community, I volunteered. As one of 17 pharmacists who became union representatives, I am still amazed by what we have already achieved in just our initial year.
In summary, the profession now has an independent voice at our company. That is critical because we are health professionals working in a retail environment caring for patients and although we all want the business to succeed, we know that sometimes the demands of the company can compromise our ability to provide a good service to patients and place our wellbeing at risk.
That is the nature of our sector and the union and management can discuss and agree on a fair way forward. The PDA is the only independent trade union exclusively for pharmacists and is completely free from the control of any employer. That means we can speak freely in the interests of pharmacists. Unlike any alternative kind of employee structure, we have legal status in trade union law that provides protection from discrimination or detriment due to our activities; we also have a legal right to have time-released from our normal duties to undertake our union role.
This new way of working was a change for the management and for pharmacists, but we are now working positively and effectively together to find win-win solutions to challenges that improve things for the company, the profession, and importantly for patients. I never thought any pharmacist would be sitting down with senior management to agree to such matters like we do, but I’m proud to have the privilege to represent the views and needs of pharmacists”
“Pharmacists at Boots deserve to be treated fairly and with respect at work. They should have job security, fair reward and a good working environment. They want to be able to put patient safety and professional standards above the company’s drive for profits. Pharmacists at Boots want us to be legally recognised so that we can work with management to achieve these things.”
Other activities that unions such as PDA have been involved in include discussion with regulators.
For example, PDA recently raised concerns that the regulators have focussed too much on individuals and not enough on the employers.
The PDA state:
“we will continue to press for the reform of pharmacy regulation to ensure that more attention is paid to the regulation of the business behaviours of those pharmacy owners who damage the reputation of the profession. The PDA Union's focus is on protecting and improving professional autonomy, working conditions and employment terms for pharmacists”
Another issue that PDA have campaigned about is that of “Too Many Pharmacists?” and oversaturation, PDA instigated a series of conferences around the UK to focus on this looming problem and developed a seven point plan.
"Pharmacist supply and demand has become disconnected, with potentially dramatic consequences for the future of the profession,” warned PDA Chairman Mark Koziol.
“If pharmacy is to flourish then it is important to ensure that the forces of supply and demand are linked with an intelligent plan, but currently no such plan for pharmacy exists,” he continued. “There will be trouble ahead if these issues are not addressed, and the PDA wants to work together with other pharmacy bodies to develop solutions"
“There are now 26 schools of pharmacy in the UK, around 63 per cent more than ten years ago, with three more due to open. There is no central control on pharmacy numbers and no limit to the number of additional courses set up. This also raises the question of whether there are sufficient numbers of suitably experienced teaching staff to run these new courses. A lack of workforce planning therefore threatens to affect both the quality and career prospects of newly qualified pharmacists.”
12. How much would it cost for me to join prospect union?
The cost of joining Prospect is dependent on your Optometrist/ Dispensing Optician salary (if self employed, dividends and other forms of income do not need to be taken into account.
13. What are the other benefits of joining a trade union?
· Being part of a unionised workforce means you’re more likely to be better paid and have better conditions than others in similar work who don’t have the support of a union.
· Having your union involved with health and safety issues at every level makes your workplace safer.
· Your union will make sure you and your colleagues are treated with respect and push your employer to make your workplace more inclusive for women, black and minority ethnic workers, LGBT workers and disabled workers and fairer for both older and young workers.
· Many contracts of employment include terms agreed by the union which give legal rights to the employee. If yours does and you’re a member of the union you can influence what is agreed.
· The support of your union can deliver results where your legal rights aren’t enough by themselves to remedy the unfairness you may be subjected to at work.
· If you have a problem at work, your union representative can give you expert advice, support and representation from start to finish, including at disciplinary and grievance hearings. Your union representative will probably be someone who has experience of dealing with your employer and industry, so is well placed to resolve the issue amicably where possible and advise you on your next steps and tactics if not.
· If you’re in a redundancy and/or restructuring situation or face a transfer of your work to another business, or wholesale changes to your terms and conditions, your union can advise you on how to secure your rights. In certain circumstances, a recognised union has rights to be consulted on behalf of you and your colleagues similarly affected and the right to claim an award for each affected employee if the employer fails to consult.
· You can access free legal advice and representation for employment law and personal injury claims from lawyers trusted by your union.
· You can make use of training opportunities offered to you by your union.
· You have a right to paid time off to take part in union activities.
· You have a vote in ballots for industrial action or consultative ballots on, for example, pay offers.
· You can participate in campaigns on work-related issues of particular importance to you.
· Most of all, being in a union goes some way towards redressing the often unequal bargaining position between you and your employer. It gives you a voice that your employer is more likely to listen to because you aren’t standing alone as one individual but as part of a larger united group with the same aims.
· You can benefit from union membership whether or not your employer recognizes a union. The more union members there are in the workforce, the greater the leverage the union can use on your behalf and the more likely it is that the union is able to gain recognition, which gives the union more legal rights to information, to be consulted and to negotiate terms and conditions on behalf of the workforce.
14. How would the union seek recognition at an employer?
This can be via voluntary or statutory process. If the employer agrees to recognise the union there will usually be a collective agreement setting out:
15. What if the voluntary agreement cannot be reached?
The Employment Relations Act (1999) sets out a detailed procedure, with time limits, for claiming recognition on application to the Central Arbitration Committee (CAC).The procedure, which only applies to employers of more than 20 workers is as follows:
Prospect Specific Trade Union questions:
17. Can I remain anonymous as a union member?
If you wish to take up a regional representative position or representative position for your employer, you will need to be contactable by other branch members.
If you wish to remain as a member and not take up a position or act as a representative you can choose to remain anonymous. You may choose to correspond with the union via e-mail, weekly zoom meeting or via a personal communication with a member or rep.
Branch will liase with the negotiation matter and consult with the union about what can be done it depends on the recognition that has been achieved- the stronger the unions position is.
18. Can a union help me with testing times?
The union can seek to address concerns that have been raised such as testing times, ghost clinics, commercial pressure, lack of adequate rest breaks through negotiating.
Prospect Union negotiators have pan-sector experience and are famililar with large employers. Aswell as negotiating, a union can seek recognition (see Q.14)
19. If I join the union, can my employer discriminate against me?
The law - Section 146 of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992 (TULR(C)A 92) protects workers from being subjected to detriment related to trade union membership or taking part in trade union activities.
All Optometrists and Dispensing Opticians are entitled to join a trade union. The Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992 gives all members of the union specific protection at work from victimisation on grounds of their union membership or their participation in union activities.
You are protected whether you are permanent, fixed-term, full-time, part-time, locum or agency. You are protected from trade union victimisation whether or not the union is recognised by your employer for negotiating purpose
20. Can my employer ask me not to join a union or to abandon a collective agreement?
No, employers are prohibited from making an offer to employees which is designed to induce them:
a) not to be (or seek to be) a member of an independent trade union;
b) not to take part in the activities of an independent trade union, either in their own time or in work time where allowed;
c) not to make use of trade union services, either in their own time or in work time where allowed; andto become a member of any union, or of one particular union.
Employers are also banned from offering an inducement to a member of a trade union that is recognised or seeking recognition to stop or prevent their terms and conditions being negotiated collectively (i.e. through collective bargaining).
21. As a self-employed/locum how can prospect help me negotiate?
Self employed members are entitled to discuss and negotiate on the terms of self employed contracts and are entitled to representation and other benefits similar to employed members.
Self employed contractors can seek union advice on negotiation of fees, working conditions, advice on wording of contracts, model contracts, help with payments, debt collection, advice on taxation, opportunities to share experiences with other self employed workers.
22. Can prospect union help me to oppose the apprenticeship?
The apprenticeship proposal for Optometrists in 2019 gained significant opposition and debate within the profession.
All of the current Prospect Optometry Trade Union ‘POTU’ branch members oppose the apprenticeship in the current proposed format. POTU will continue to seek member opinions on new routes to registration and other topics and continue to liase with stakeholders to ensure that an independent voice for Optometrists is heard.
23. As a director can I join?
Yes, there is nothing stopping an Optometrist director joining POTU trade union, both OPG and POTU have members who are independent practice owners, directors of businesses and employers. It is however imperative that all directors are transparent about the position as one of the key prinicipals of a trade union is democratic election, transparency and freedom from conflict of interest.
If you are a director at a high street optical chain, we will liase with Prospect Trade Union to create a separate directors branch, similar organisations already exist (see ORDA- Optical retail directors association) which is a trade union for Specsavers Directors.
24. What are the duties of the branch?
The day-to-day work of the branch is overseen by a branch committee (usually called the ‘branch council’, ‘executive council’ or ‘executive committee’). The committee will be established in accordance with the branch’s own rules (model rules for branches are available by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org).
Its members will be reps drawn from sections or directly elected by the members. As well as deciding the union’s position on issues that are subject to consultation with the employer, the branch committee has to ensure that its routine business is conducted efficiently.
An effective branch committee should base its work on an annual calendar and:
References https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/public-list-of-active-trade-unions-official-list-and-schedule/trade-unions-the-current-list-and-schedule#schedule-of-unlisted-trade-unions https://www.the-pda.org/call-for-better-regulation-of-pharmacy-businesses/ https://www.the-pda.org/are-we-producing-too-many-pharmacists/ https://www.tuc.org.uk/blogs/collective-bargaining-how-trade-unions-can-ensure-better-jobs-workers https://www.the-pda.org/apprenticeships-optometrists-see-eye-to-eye-with-pharmacists-as-the-two-health-professions-face-similar-proposals/ https://www.simpsonmillar.co.uk/media/what-are-the-benefits-of-being-a-trade-union-member-in-uk/ https://app.croneri.co.uk/topics/trade-unions-and-employers/indepth