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Conflict at Merck Serono, Switzerland ends with a Social Plan

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13 August, 2012Merck Serono employees in Geneva, Switzerland voted last week to accept a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) that brings to a close the long struggle by IndustriALL Global Union’s Swiss affiliate UNIA to put “Workers before Shareholders!”


The MoU was reached in bargaining between worker representatives, UNIA, and management of the pharmaceuticals giant, under the mediation of Geneva authorities. The unfortunate decision to close the sites in Geneva and Coisins was not reversed, but a sustained determined effort by workers throughout the summer since 27 April has at least achieved a positive settlement for the 1,500 employees to lose their job. Workers had renewed strike action last week as Merck Serono refused to improve the social plan, in one of the largest industrial action campaigns in recent history in Switzerland.

Two further goals of the workers’ negotiators were for reemployment at a new biotechnology institute on the Geneva site, and a push to raise awareness of the need to change the labour legislation in Switzerland. The Merck Serono employees have garnered wide support from the local community, thanks in part to their creative campaigning. The project to create a new biotechnology institute is now in the hands of local and national government, and can save hundreds of jobs and considerable skills in the city.

Significant gains were won especially enabling early retirement of older employees, on good terms. Minimum redundancy payments were increased. A special fund was created for compensation for temporary workers and subcontractors. Workers are released from work for one month to look for another job. Also achieved was the commitment from Merck Serono to support the creation of biotechnology institute, under certain conditions. The agreed social plan also brings the withdrawal of all retaliation by management on workers’ representatives.

UNIA now prioritizes the fight to save manufacturing jobs in Switzerland. The Merck Serono employees’ General Assembly that voted to accept the MoU denounced the weak legal framework protecting workers facing redundancy. The General Assembly called for the creation of a new national multi-stakeholder committee charged with revising national legislation. UNIA plans a large demonstration in capital Bern on 22 September calling for a strong industry in the country.

Kemal Özkan, IndustriALL Global Union’s Assistant General Secretary said: “We congratulate our affiliate UNIA and Merck Serono employees for their decisive struggle and campaign to secure their jobs. This is what we need to do at the global scale since more or less all pharmaceutical multinationals plan mass job cuts at a time when they are making huge profits”.

See a previous IndustriALL report here.