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Trade union brands Sanofi's UK plant closure "appalling"

By Natalie Morrison , 19-Mar-2012
Last updated on 19-Mar-2012 at 13:24 GMT

The UK’s biggest trade union Unite has lashed out at Sanofi branding its plan to close a plant in Newcastle, England, as “unacceptable”.

Last week the French drugsmaker said it will close the plant - which employs 450 people - by 2015, citing the impending loss of patent protection for top selling drugs it produces there - including Plavix - as a key factor in its decision.

The factory also manufactures some generics like paracetamol, however communications director Ian Weatherhead told in-PharmaTechnologist the EU market proved “too competitive” for its Fawdon factory.

Now in a seething statement, Unite national officer Linda McCulloch said the union is going to fight the closure.

She said: "The way the workforce and the union were advised this site is to close is completely unacceptable. There was no prior warning and no consultation. This would never have been allowed to happen in other EU countries such as France or Germany.”

Furious about the manner in which workers were told and sent home on the same day, McCulloch added: "We are appalled at the way this has been handled – there has been scant regard for the hard working and skilled workforce.”

Unite now plans to begin discussions with Sanofi over plans to keep the site open. “It is time it got serious about its responsibility to the workforce which has shown them so much loyalty," McCulloch added.

Weatherfield told us Sanofi already has a program in place for those set to lose their jobs including, “re-location within the company where possible, additional training and development care advice, and in some cases redundancy packages”.

Diversifying to survive

Speaking to in-PharmaTechnologist, the company said that it regrets the potential loss of jobs, but that its hand was forced because of Fawdon’s “fragile portfolio”.

Weatherhead said: “First of all I would like to say it is still a proposal, but in the context of the adverse economic climate, and a challenging market in the EU, we have to consider it seriously.

“The product portfolio manufactured there is very fragile. The problem is there is now too much generic competition, and not enough demand for the products.”

He added that the decision was not only a cost-cutting measure, but also part of the strategy to “diversify” the business.

“Drugs coming off-patent has been an ongoing issue for a number of years now,” he said. “We’re now looking to diversify our strategy and are working in generic products, consumer healthcare, neuro healthcare, and even animal healthcare.”

The news falls in line with Sanofi’s announcement earlier this year, that it would cut $170m of its operations to boost its acquisition spending.

At the time, CEO Chris Viehbacher said: “All we want to do is continue to look for opportunities, particularly in emerging markets”.

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