FRANCE – ECONOMY

France’s Sanofi faces strike over job cuts in midst of Covid vaccine woes

A researcher works with samples at a Sanofi laboratory in Val-de-Reuil in Normandy, France, 10 July 2020.
A researcher works with samples at a Sanofi laboratory in Val-de-Reuil in Normandy, France, 10 July 2020. © JOEL SAGET / AFP

Staff of France’s largest pharmeceutical company Sanofi were expected to go on strike Tuesday following the announcement of about 1,000 job losses in as part of a three-year cost-cutting plan. The job cuts, expected to affect research activity, come as the company faces criticism over its delayed Covid vaccine. 

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The company said Monday the redundancies were in line with what had been announced last year, when staff were told 1,700 jobs would be shed overall in Europe.

“There will be about 1,000 redundancies in France over three years, in different parts of the organisation, including research and development,” Olivier Bogillot, president of Sanofi in France, told AFP Agency.

“We made the announcements in June and it took time to put all of the strategic orientations into place.” 

Sanofi said in late 2019 it would seek 2 billion euros in savings by 2022, notably ceasing its traditional activities in diabetes research as well as cardiovascular programmes. 

Bogillot added the departures would be voluntary and that the services targeted were not yet determined.

Unions link vaccine woes to cuts

The CFDT trade union said the company planned to cut 750 research and development jobs in Europe, including 400 in France and the rest in Germany. 

Trade union CGT said the announcement was part of a pattern of spending cuts over 15 years that had resulted in the company “losing the race for the vaccine against Covid”. 

Sanofi’s laboratories had been developing two Covid vaccines but will not have anything ready to roll out until late 2021, reportedly due to a laboratory error. 

Unions representing workers called staff about about 20 sites to strike on Tuesday in opposition to the cuts and its consequences for research and development. The company, however, denied it was sacrificing these activities. 

“All that I hear about Sanofi disinvesting in research and development in France is false,” Bogillot told AFP. “We are going to be a few months late, but it will remain a vaccine that has arrived in less than two years,” he said. 

Job losses across French industry

Also on Monday, representatives of the CGT’s national engineering branch put Sanofi at the top of a list in a widespread rebuke of various companies operating in France pursuing redundancy plans in in the midst of the Covid pandemic. 

“Sanofi, Renault, Danone, Nokia, General Electric, Total, IBM, Airbus, Akka, Alten, CGG, Renault Trucks… The list of companies taking advantage of the crisis to reduce their engineering, research and management staff is long, ” wrote Sophie Binet and Marie-José Kotlicki, co-general secretaries of the Ugict-CGT trade union representing engineers and management staff, in business daily Les Echos on Monday. 

The tribute cited a study by industry professional group Apec, hirings of white-collar workers in the industrial sector declined 40 percent in 2020, an unprecedented drop according to the union representatives. 

“Barely six months ago, France discovered it was incapable of manufacturing basic, indispensable products: masks, key ingredients for medicine… not to mention that it was totally dependent on China for supply chains,” Binet and Kotlicki wrote.  

“Having sacrified our capacities for production and suffered serious social and envirionmental consequences for it, our capacity for innovation is now in the crosshairs,” they wrote.

The pair argued most companies on the list could not be said to be facing any particular economic difficulties given their payments to shareholders, including Sanofi which had been “outdistanced in the race for a vaccine” for having “halved its research staff in ten years, while paying 4 to 5 billion euros per year in dividends”.  

France’s government said Friday that Sanofi might manufacture vaccines on behalf of other developers, including Pfizer-BioNTech, while awaiting approval of its own jab. 

(with newswires)

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