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Resentment Brews After Pharma Major Pfizer Terminates 200 ‘Field Force’ Staff in India

FMRAI demands revocation of the decision to axe employees by the US pharma giant, whose 2021 revenue is ‘higher than India’s health budget’.
Resentment Brews After Pharma Major Pfizer Terminates 200 ‘Field Force’ Staff in India

Image Courtesy: BW Businessworld

Kolkata: Widespread discontent is brewing among medical representatives after American multinational pharma giant Pfizer Inc’s Indian arm abruptly terminated over 200 of its ‘field force’ on June 6, claiming ‘redundancy’. The ‘field force’ comprises sales promotion staff, known as medical representatives.

The decision has kicked up a controversy as Pfizer is among global blue-chip pharma giants that reaped huge profits during the COVID-19 pandemic period.

Condemning the move, Shantanu Chatterjee, general secretary of the Federation of Medical and Sales Representative Association of India (FMRAI), told NewsClick that the lay-offs after raking huge profits from India were “not done”.

“Whether they are planning to go for third party marketing, as (Swiss MNC) Novartis has been doing in India or following the ‘go to the market model” is not known,” he said.

According to sources, this move could also be a retaliatory move by Pfizer whose vaccine was not allowed in India after price negotiations failed.

“They are trying to sell their new research molecules under a stringent patent regime, whereas India follows a weak patent regime. As per reports, out of the 200 retrenched, 150 are medical representatives and the rest are either first-line managers or higher up in the hierarchy,” said Chatterjee.

This termination of 200 members of the ‘field force’ by Pfizer has pushed these employees and their families into immense financial hardship and distress. More so when pharma giants like Pfizer have reaped huge profits across the world through sales of drugs, medical devices and vaccines during pandemics.

It is well known that the pandemic and the sudden lockdown in India led to huge job losses, wage reduction and a tremendous increase in workload across sectors, especially the pharma industry.

People are still struggling to cope with the aftermath of the pandemic amid huge inflation. At such a time, the management of Pfizer has removed a section of field employees. It had announced a VRS (voluntary retirement scheme) on April 11, 2022, which failed to evoke any substantial response. Now the management has suo motu terminated 200 employees, an FMRAI press release said.

Some of the retrenched Pfizer employees, on the condition of anonymity, alleged that the principle of natural justice and laws of the land had not been followed.

They said they had been terminated on the plea of “redundancy” of their role to fit and match the new “go-to-market model”, as termed by the management.

In an email response to NewsClick’s queries, a Pfizer company spokesperson said that the company is transforming its "go-to-market model" which entails "strategic changes to our workforce". Confirming that some employees' services are ending, the spokesperson wrote that "a fit-to-purpose approach, unfortunately, requires that some of our colleagues pursue their future career outside of Pfizer".

The impacted colleagues, the statement claimed, "are being fully supported through this transition with counselling, career transition services, and extended medical insurance in addition to severance compensation". The company said that it will be "adding several new jobs, including subject matter experts, digital and medical specialists" to expand its "customer and patient reach".

However, the retrenched employees alleged that no objective assessment of the relevant factors and criteria to fit and match the new “go-to-market model” was conducted by the company”.

“Despite having bilateral industrial relations and after signing five wage settlements with FMRAI, Pfizer, without any discussion, has resorted to the path of victimisation,” FMRAI said.

It added that this “unfair act of betrayal by the management of Pfizer is a step toward trampling the bargaining and legal rights of workers which will adversely affect industrial peace and harmony.”

FMRAI demanded immediate revocation of the “unlawful terminations”, failing which it said it would be “compelled to take up the matter both legally and through agitations in the interest of the members and common people.”

Incidentally, the latest financial report of Pfizer Inc. reveals that while the world grappled with the pandemic, big pharma was busy minting money.

Pfizer, in particular, made massive gains. Over 12 months during 2021, the US pharma major recorded a 95% jump in revenues -- from about $42,000 million to $81,000 million.

Pfizer Inc.'s net income rise between 2020 and 2021 is a whopping 140% - from about $9,000 million to $22,000 million.

Just as a comparison, Pfizer's 2021 revenue is nearly seven times India's recently announced health budget (Rs 8,90,000 million or $11,867 million).

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