Sales employees up in arms against AZ India for ‘unlawful’ termination of jobs
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A spate of job terminations continues in the pharmaceuticals sales sector, with the latest at multinational drug maker AstraZeneca (AZ) Pharma India Limited, which has let go of its 103 employees in the company’s ‘primary care’ division. While 52 of these sales employees accepted the offer of the voluntary retirement scheme (VRS) floated by the pharma major, another 51 had desisted.

AZ India’s primary care division had responsibility for the sales of two drugs — Betaloc, a beta blocker drug; and Imdur, which is prescribed for anginal pain. According to sources, the company is merging marketing activities for these drug category portfolios with other divisions.

“AZ India has unlawfully terminated the services of even those employees who did not accept VRS. Some of these employees are in their thirties and forties. Why would they want to seek voluntary retirement?” one of the employees who has refused the company’s offer asked.

Official reporting portals of 51 employees were blocked and the company transferred the termination compensation along with other dues directly into the bank accounts of these employees, another employee terminated by AZ India said.

On Wednesday, representatives of multiple pharma companies, including AZ India, Albert David Limited, Stadmed Private Limited, Karnataka Antibiotics and Pharmaceuticals Limited, and Sanofi Pasteur India Private Limited, amongst others, protested outside AZ India’s sales depot in southeast Delhi.

Following the lay-offs, the Federation of Medical and Sales Representatives Associations of India (FMRAI) filed a complaint with the Labour Commissioner in Bengaluru. “AZ India’s management attended the conciliation meeting on February 28 at the office of the deputy labour commissioner… and assured us to continue with the marketing activities of primary care division…despite that we were shocked and surprised to note that management has issued letters of termination on March 6 to all sales promotion employees… with vague and untenable reasons that their services will cease after the closing hours of March 10,” FMRAI’s general secretary Santanu Chatterjee wrote in a letter to AZ India’s Human Resources director Amanpreet Kaur Ahuja.

Most employees who have lost their job belong to medical representatives’ unions and have alleged that their abrupt dismissal is in violation of labour law and tantamount to unfair labour practices. Mr. Chatterjee said that as per Section 33 (1)(a) and (b) of Industrial Disputes Act, 1947 no employer can change the service conditions without express permission of the concerned conciliation (labour) officer during the pendency of the proceedings.

AZ India has meanwhile maintained that it has discontinued services of some of its sales promotion employees as a result of the company’s “evolving strategic priorities”.

The pharma major has clocked healthy growth with 24% rise in revenue from operations from ₹205.85 crore in Q3 FY22 to ₹257 crore in Q3 FY23. Net profit during the same time jumped from ₹11.41 crore to ₹29.30 crore.

The wave of lay-offs continues after domestic companies like Zydus Lifesciences Limited, TTK Healthcare Limited and Indoco Remedies Limited laid off their employees. Among the multinationals, Novartis Limited, Sanofi India Limited and Pfizer Limited have also followed suit.

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