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Merck Serono tweaks Swiss restructuring plans

Published on 20/06/12 at 01:11pm
Workers 'flash mob' outside Merck Serono HQ
Workers 'flash mob' outside Merck Serono HQ

Merck KGaA has finalised the restructuring plans at Swiss drugs unit Merck Serono, confirming that it intends to close its Geneva headquarters and manufacturing facility at Coinsins.

The revised plan is pretty close to the original framework revealed in April, with around 500 jobs set to go as a result of the closures and 750 staff due to be switched to sites in Switzerland (Aubonne), Merck's other headquarters in Germany (Darmstadt), the US (Boston) and China (Beijing).

Among these, 80 posts will go at Merck Serono's manufacturing sites at Aubonne, Corsier-sur-Vevey and Coinsins, with the latter operation relocated to Aubonne.

Merck said that it received a number of proposals from employees aimed at limiting the scope of the cutbacks - many of which centred on keeping the Geneva HQ open in return for productivity boosts and wage cuts. However, it has concluded that it "could not retain the proposals advocating maintenance of its activities in Geneva".

It also rejected a proposal for a one-year moratorium on job cuts, but said it had made certain concessions, such as a reduction in the early retirement age from 58 to 56 and allowing some employees who resign before the expected end of their contract to retain part of their severance payments.

The company also confirmed plans to set up a €30 million ($38m) fund to back employee start-ups via measures such as capital investment and/or the granting of intellectual property licenses, and said several projects are already under evaluation.

Workers have been holding demonstrations at the affected sites as well as strike actions in recent weeks, including a ‘flash mob’ outside the Geneva HQ, but Merck has issued a directive forbidding such protests on its property in future.

In a statement, Merck Serono's chief executive Stefan Oschmann said that the restructuring was "necessitated by the unprecedented market shifts and the competitive environment facing the group.

"This restructuring process involves tough measures, but these are essential to safeguard the future of Merck Serono," he added.

The Unia union which represents many of the employees affected by the decision issued a strongly-worded condemnation of the move yesterday, saying that the workers are ‘angry’ and decided to undertake a flash strike this morning (20 June).

"The aim of the strike is to force the directors of Merck Serono to the negotiating table," it said.

Phil Taylor

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