After creating a noisy protest over the planned closing of Geneva headquarters and the elimination of some 1,250 jobs, Merck Serono workers have agreed to postpone a strike that was to have begun tomorrow, according to the impromptu web site created by employees. The union representing Merck Serono workers, including white-collar employees, will maintain the postponement if Merck KGgA management agrees to several unspecified conditions. As part of the delay, the employees say the drugmaker has agreed to extend a so-called reorganization consultation with employees by three weeks.
"As a result of the continued pressure made by the representatives of the Merck Serono employee (union), Unia, and the syndicate, the Merck Serono management has agreed to extend the consultation by three weeks. The employees and Unia have agreed to suspend the strike under certain conditions that will be negotiated this week. Their objective is also to allow for a real dialogue and negotiation. More details about this will be shared at the General Assembly tommorow," states the web site (look here). A petition against the reorganization is also under way.
The move comes after Merck Serono employees reacted with fury to the April 24 announcement that Merck KGgA plans to shift various jobs in Switzlerand to Germany, the US and China. As part of the changes, the Geneva headquarters would be eliminated and those job functions would be consolidated at Merck KGgA headquarters in Damstadt, Germany (read more here). For those who may not recall, Merck KGgA purchased Serono six years ago and Le Temps reports in an interesting look back at the deal that human resources and finance functions were soon after moved to Damstadt (see this).
The resistance from employees recalls a similar effort made several months ago by Novartis workers in Switzerland, who succeeded in pressuring the drugmaker to change its mind and abandon plans to close a plant in Vaud, Switzerland, a step designed to save about 320 jobs. At the same time, the drugmaker agreed to elminate fewer than the 760 jobs that were originally to have been cut at a chemical plant in Basel (read more here). The turnabout came after Novartis employees lobbied local government to similarly pressure the drugmaker.
Whether Merck KGgA will also buckle remains to be seen. We asked the drugmaker for comment and will update you accordingly. Merck Serono employees, meanwhile, argue that actual economic loss will extend beyond the 1,250 jobs to be effected. About 750 will be transferred and the remaining 500 positions will be eliminated, but this does not include temporary workers. They also argue the move will hurt the local and national economies.
The events at Novartis, by the way, also inspired employees at other drugmakers in Europe to threaten actions in response to planned job cuts. Earlier this year, Roche workers in Poland protested certain hiring practices and a pair of unions in the UK that represent employees at two AstraZeneca talked tough about vowing to fight layoffs that were announced as part of a worldwide cutback of some 7,300 positions (see this and this).