Resentment simmers after pharmaceutical major Pfizer fired 200 ‘field force’ workers in India

Kolkata: Widespread discontent is brewing among medical representatives after the Indian branch of US multinational pharmaceutical giant Pfizer Inc abruptly terminated more than 200 of its “field forces” on June 6, citing “redundancy”. The “field force” is made up of sales promotion agents, called medical representatives.

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

Condemning the move, Shantanu Chatterjee, Secretary General of the Federation of Medical and Sales Representative Associations of India (FMRAI), said NewsClick that layoffs after raking in huge profits in India were “not done”.

“It’s unclear whether they plan to go for third-party marketing, like (Swiss MNC) Novartis did in India or follow the ‘go to the market‘ model,” he said.

Sources say the move could also be a retaliatory move by Pfizer whose vaccine was not licensed in India after price talks failed.

“They try to sell their new research molecules under a strict patent regime, while India follows a weak patent regime. According to reports, of the 200 dismissed, 150 are medical representatives and the rest are either front-line managers or higher up the hierarchy,” Chatterjee said.

This dismissal of 200 members of the “field force” by Pfizer plunged these employees and their families into immense financial hardship and distress. Especially since pharmaceutical giants like Pfizer have reaped huge profits around the world from the sale of drugs, medical devices and vaccines during pandemics.

It is well known that the pandemic and the sudden lockdown in India has led to huge job losses, reduction in salaries and huge increase in workload in all sectors especially the pharmaceutical industry.

People are still struggling to cope with the consequences of the pandemic against the backdrop of huge inflation. At such a time, Pfizer management removed some of the field workers. She had announced a VRS (voluntary retirement scheme) on April 11, 2022, which elicited no substantial response. Now management has suo motu laid off 200 employees, according to an FMRAI press release.

Some of the terminated Pfizer employees, speaking on condition of anonymity, alleged that the principle of natural justice and the laws of the land were not followed.

They said they were fired on the grounds of “redundancy” in their role to adapt and match the new “go-to-market model”, as management calls it.

In an email response to NewsClick’s questions, a Pfizer company spokesperson said the company was transforming its “go-to-market model,” which involves “strategic changes to our workforce.” Confirming that some employees’ services are ending, the spokesperson wrote that “a responsive approach, unfortunately, requires some of our colleagues to pursue their future careers outside of Pfizer.”

Affected colleagues, the statement said, “are fully supported throughout this transition with counselling, career transition services and extended medical insurance in addition to severance pay.” The company said it will “add several new jobs, including subject matter experts, digital and medical specialists” to expand its “customer and patient reach.”

However, the terminated employees alleged that no objective assessment of relevant factors and criteria to adapt and match the new “go-to-market model” had not been conducted by the company.

“Despite bilateral industrial relations and after signing five wage agreements with FMRAI, Pfizer, without any discussion, has taken the path of victimization,” FMRAI said.

He added that this “unjust act of betrayal by Pfizer management is a step towards trampling on the bargaining rights and legal rights of workers, which will negatively affect industrial peace and harmony.”

The FMRAI demanded the immediate revocation of the ‘unlawful dismissals’, failing which it said it would be ‘forced to take up the matter both legally and through agitations in the interests of members and ordinary people “.

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

Pfizer, in particular, made massive gains. Over 12 months in 2021, the big American pharmaceutical company saw a 95% increase in revenue, from around $42,000 million to $81,000 million.

The increase in net income of Pfizer Inc. between 2020 and 2021 is 140%, from approximately $9,000 million to $22,000 million.

By comparison, Pfizer’s revenue in 2021 is nearly seven times India’s recently announced health budget (8.90,000 million rupees or $11,867 million).