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Merck Serono workers fight back over Swiss closure plans

Threaten to strike if management rejects proposed alternatives to the cuts

Merck Serono Geneva HQ

Merck Serono says it has concluded the consultation process with staff in Switzerland over plans to shut down its Geneva headquarters and reduce staffing levels across the group, and expects to issue a final decision by June 19.

Merck Serono said in April that it plans to close the Geneva headquarters - with the loss of more than 500 jobs - and transfer a number of positions to sites in Germany, the US and China. Jobs will also go at manufacturing facilities in Aubonne, Corsier-sur-Vevey and Coinsins.

Now, staff have sent three alternative proposals to management aimed at securing their employment, only one of which would envision the Geneva site staying open in its present form.

According to the Unia trade union, one proposal would keep the Geneva headquarters open, but only in return for a commitment to boost efficiency by 25 to 30 per cent as well as salary cuts. 

The two other options both centre on trying to preserve some of the R&D functions currently caried out in Geneva. One would lead to the creation of a smaller, dedicated research facility with 300 staff that would maintain close ties to the parent company. 

Another would lead to the creation of a 100m-franc ($68m) fund - more than three times the amount already promised by Merck Serono - that would be used to help staff set up biopharma start-ups.

Workers staged a protest on June 4 in front of the Geneva site, and have threatened to go on strike on June 12 if the proposals are rejected at a meeting between workers, union officials and management which is due to take place on Thursday (June 7).

"The workers have reiterated their determination to fight to preserve jobs and to defend themselves against the destruction of know-how in the region in favour of profits," trade union Unia said in a statement.

Merck Serono's Swiss workforce is likely to have been heartened by Novartis' reversal of a decision to close a pharmaceutical production unit in Nyon and scale back staff reduction at a chemical plant in Basel, after a series of protests and strikes. 

Unia has however been incensed by what it describes as "unacceptable passivity" on behalf of local government officials despite repeated requests by Merck Serono's workers for help in trying to save their jobs.

The union is organising a public protest for Saturday June 9 at the gates of Merck Serono's headquarters, and is also gathering signatures on a petition to try to mobilise public opposition to the closure.

For its part, Merck Serono has said it will take two weeks to review the staff proposals, insisting that "the proposals received will be examined with the greatest of care and, insofar as the constraints to which we are subject will allow, they will be taken into account in determining our final decision on the restructuring plan for Merck Serono's operations in Switzerland".

6th June 2012

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