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Merck Serono says dispute over Geneva closure is resolved

Published on 10/08/12 at 02:55pm
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Merck Serono says it has reached agreement with groups representing workers affected by the closure and downsizing of sites in Switzerland, putting an end to weeks of industrial dispute.

Earlier this year Merck Serono announced plans to close its Geneva headquarters and a manufacturing facility in Coinsins, and reduce staff numbers at two other sites in Aubonne and Corsier-sur-Vevey. All told, some 500 jobs are to be axed with 750 transferred to other locations.

The move prompted protests and industrial actions by workers affected by the plans and Merck Serono has been negotiating hard with workers groups, local government and trade unions to try to reach an amicable settlement.

Efforts to avert the closure of the Geneva site ended in failure, but trade union Unia welcomed Merck Serono's agreement to help set up an Institute of Biotechnology in Geneva, albeit subject to ‘certain conditions’ including some degree of government funding, which could end up employing hundreds of workers.

The company has however improved the packages offered to employees affected by the changes, including minimum guaranteed severance pay of 25,000 Swiss francs ($39,000) with additional compensation for employees aged over 50, including those who are eligible for early retirement but decline to take it for ‘economic reasons’.

The age for early retirement is reduced from 58 to 56 years after five years of service, with Merck Serono promising greater contributions in a bridging pension scheme. Meanwhile, full severance pay will be granted to employees who resigned in the three months ahead of being laid off, and a 500,000-franc fund has been set aside to help in cases of hardship.

Employees who have been axed will also be able to stop work a month early to help them find alternative employment.

Unia said its battle is not over, however, as it maintains that the legal framework available to employees offers only ‘meagre protection’ from mass layoffs.

The trade union aid it will work to get an update to Switzerland's Revision des Obligationenrechts (Code of Obligations) to make sweeping redundancies and site closures in the country's industrial sector harder to achieve.

Some Merck Serono employees have been thrown a lifeline by contract research organisation Quintiles which has said it will offer ‘at least 100 jobs’ to workers affected by the cuts.

Meanwhile a €30 million entrepreneurial fund set up by the firm has already led to the creation of one spin-out company - called Prexton Therapeutics - focusing on Parkinson's disease therapies.

Phil Taylor 

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