AstraZeneca medical representatives threaten strike

Veena Mani & M Saraswathy  |  New Delhi/Mumbai 

After going on mass casual leave for a day, about 700 medical representatives (MRs) of the India unit of UK-based pharmaceutical major AstraZeneca have planned to go on a strike. They are protesting the termination of employment contracts of about 100 MRs in the past two months. This follows a restructuring in the company’s strategy that saw divestment of its antibiotics business to Pfizer in August. Near 50 of these 100 MRs were laid off on Friday. These employees are backed by the members of the Federation of Medical Representatives of India (FMRI), which includes medical representatives from Sun Pharmaceuticals and Lupin, among others.

“FMSRAI held demonstrations at the company’s offices across the country today and now we are planning a strike,” said a spokesperson at the Federation of Medical and Sales Representatives Association of India (FMSRAI). The spokesperson confirmed that 700 members of the sales force went on casual mass leave across the country on Monday.

The employees and the federation have to give 15 days’ notice before they go on a strike. The federation said it would inform the company soon about the strike. It said about 120 employees from the antibiotics department were also expected to be laid off soon.

The company did not confirm the mass leaves or share any information regarding the negotiations. “The information you have received is factually incorrect,” said a company spokesperson in an e-mail response. “AstraZeneca has kept its employees continuously informed and updated on its business strategy. Through the course of the restructuring, we have absorbed as many employees as possible, and those in roles that were impacted have been provided financial and transitional support, including compensation packages, counselling and job placement services.” The company claimed to have followed all applicable laws and regulation.

The development comes at a time when the employees of erstwhile Ranbaxy are fighting for better working conditions and agitating against Sun Pharmaceutical’s “arbitrary transfers” and non-payment of wages. Sun Pharmaceutical acquired Ranbaxy in 2014. On Thursday, the Bombay High Court ordered Sun Pharmaceutical to disburse salaries of 48 sales representatives who have not been paid since May.

Sunil Goel, managing director at HR consultancy firm GlobalHunt, said: “The pharma industry used to work on thick margins earlier but the margins have shrunk now. Now companies need to improve productivity by enforcing optimisation of resources like manpower.”

Rituparna Chakraborty, senior vice-president at TeamLease Services, said the pharmaceuticals industry was going through a bad patch. “There is no point carrying people with you if it is becoming unviable and unsustainable,” she added.