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Novartis reverses plant closure decision

Published on 18/01/12 at 09:28am
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Novartis has said it will not close down a plant in Switzerland that had been due for closure, and has also reduced planned staff cuts at a facility in Basel after negotiations with trade unions, staff and local authorities.

Last year, Novartis caused consternation in Switzerland when it announced 760 job cuts at a chemicals site in Basel and the closure of an over-the-counter medicines manufacturing facility in Nyon with the loss of another 320 positions.

The decision prompted protests in the streets of Basel, as well as outside the home of Novartis chairman Daniel Vasella, as well as strike action and a petition against the closure which attracted more than 16,000 signatures.

Novartis is the largest employer in the small town of Nyon and the closure of the facility was expected to hit the local economy hard. 

In what looks like a victory for worker power, the Swiss drugmaker says it has reached a deal to keep Nyon open - provided the 320 workers there forego pay rises and some agree to work longer shifts - and save around a third of the planned job losses at the Basel facility by redeploying staff elsewhere. 

Moreover, Novartis has also said it will invest around 40 million Swiss francs ($42 million) over the next three to four years in the Nyon plant in return for tax concessions from the cantonal government in Vaud.

The measures implemented to avoid forced redundancies in Basel include a mandatory retirement age of 58 for a number of employees, greater use of part-time contracts and replacement of temporary workers by in-house employees. 

The trade union Unia, which represents many of the workers at the two facilities, hailed the decision as a victory but said it would continue to seek negotiations with Novartis' management to avert the rest of the job losses. 

Novartis announced 2,000 job losses last year - including the Swiss redundancies - in order to help it weather the upcoming loss of patent protection for its biggest selling drug Diovan (valsartan) for high blood pressure, which currently has annual sales of around $6 billion. 

Earlier this month the company announced another tranche of 2,000 job cuts in the US, mainly affecting its salesforce and administrative staff at its headquarters in New Jersey. 

Phil Taylor

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