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Merck Serono staff may strike over Geneva HQ closure

Published on 06/06/12 at 10:07am
Merck Serono image

Workers at Merck Serono's Swiss headquarters in Geneva have threatened industrial action over the company's plans to shut down the site and downsize workforces at facilities in its manufacturing network.

Staff met on Monday to debate Merck Serono's plans, which were first revealed back in April and would lead to 500 job losses across its Swiss operations, and the transfer of another 750 to other locations. 

They have submitted a number of counter-proposals, with three options on the table. In the first scenario, Merck Serono would keep the Geneva headquarters open, but staff there would agree to increase their productivity by 25% to 30% and absorb a cut in wages.

A second option would be for Merck Serono to maintain some R&D functions in Geneva - securing around 300 jobs - with special partner status granted to employees who leave the company to form their own start-ups. 

The third scenario would result in no presence for Merck Serono in Geneva at all, but the creation of a 100 million Swiss franc fund to help the formation of start-up companies. Merck Serono has already suggested it would make 30 million francs available for this purpose. 

Local news reports indicate that the latter two options would require some level of public support, but the Unia union representing many of the workers has slammed the ‘passivity’ of cantonal officials, which it claims have failed to take any action despite requests for assistance by Merck Serono's workers and representatives. 

In addition to the Geneva closure, Merck Serono's original plans also called for around 80 positions across three manufacturing sites in Switzerland to be cut, with the manufacturing operations in Coinsins relocated to a site in Aubonne. 

Unia organised an hour-long protest at the Geneva headquarters yesterday, and will also hold a demonstration on Saturday (9 June), ahead of a meeting to decide on possible strike action on 11 June. It has also set up a petition to try to mobilise public opposition for the plans. 

"The Merck group isn't feeling the effects of the financial crisis but is making sure its employees do," says the petition. 

"The group made a profit of 745 million francs during its last term and Merck's management increased its stockholders’ dividends by 20% … a gift that Merck Serono's employees (and the other companies present at the Swiss sites) have to pay out of their own pockets now," it adds. 

Similar protest strategies were employed by staff at Novartis after management threatened in 2011 to close an over-the-counter medicines plant in Nyon, with the loss of 320 jobs, and reduce its headcount by 760 at a chemicals plant in Basel. 

Earlier this year Novartis reversed its decision, keeping the Nyon facility open and reducing the job cuts in Basel. 

Merck Serono said in a statement that it would look carefully at the proposals and expects to make a final decision on June 19. 

Phil Taylor

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