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EMF Studies

29 June 2012

News from Geneva: Massive Lay-Offs at Merck Serono - Part 2

The story of the closing of the biotech company Merck Serono and elimination of its 1,250 posts in Geneva by the parent company Merck demonstrates the ruthlessness of the German pharmaceutical giant.

Between 24 April 2012, the date of the announcement of the lay-offs by Merck, and the present, concerned employees have obtained little progress in having their rights considered and respected.

On 19 June, management addressed a message to all employees at Merck Serono forbidding them to demonstrate inside the building. Security guards from the Swiss company Securitas as well as from a German service were hired to ensure that “employees who have chosen to continue to work might be able to do so under normal conditions.”

On 20 June, Merck confirmed its 24 April 2012 decision to lay off 500 persons and transfer most of the other employees to Boston, Darmstadt or Beijing at local salary levels. The proposals of the employees to save the company and their jobs, negotiations described as “attacking windmills”, were for the most part rejected by Merck. Management has agreed to the early retirement of 53 employees;  183 other employees would “benefit from modifications in the social plan”. 

In addition, Merck confirmed the employment of 100 persons by the American biopharmaceutical services company Quintiles, located in St. Prex and Basle, Switzerland. It has also offered 30 million Swiss francs towards financing a few local biotech start-up initiatives, a “ridiculously” small sum. To quote the Editor of the Tribune de Genève, Pierre Ruetschi, “Walled up in their castle in Darmstadt, the directors of Merck have definitively erased Geneva from the map.” 

Determined to improve the social plan and in order to get the Geneva government authorities (Conseil d’Etat) to mediate this plan, employees voted to strike for several days.  Merck told them that they would not be remunerated for the strike days.  The strike had little effect.  “Flash mobs” which blocked traffic in the main arteries of the city were also organized during busy parts of the day.  A photographer hired by management took photos of the employees who were on strike, a practice that is illegal.  Management promised to destroy the photos.

On 27 June, about ten staff members decided to begin a hunger strike.  On the second day, the Geneva government authorities succeeded in forcing mediation with management.  The union, Unia, which has all along been supporting the concerned employees in negotiating for their rights, and management will hold a first meeting on 3 July before the Chamber of collective working relations (CRCT) in order to renew the dialogue concerning the social plan.

by Meris Michaels
Ref:  Various articles from the Tribune de Genève (www.serono.tdg.ch

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