Companies

The tale of Pfizer’s Thane plant

P.T. Jyothi Datta Mumbai | Updated on November 29, 2017 Published on August 03, 2014

Pfizer's Thane plant. The drug company has issued a lockout notice at this plant. It employs 212 people. Photo: Shashi Ashiwal

A panoramic view of Pfizer's facilities at Thane. Photo: The Hindu Archives

A panoramic view of Pfizer's facilities at Thane. Photo: The Hindu Archives   -  The Hindu

Two weeks. That is the window that multinational drugmajor Pfizer’s management and its workmen at the Thane plant have to sort out their differences and avert a full fledged shutdown.

Pfizer had said, on Friday, that it had been >forced to issue a lockout notice at its Thane manufacturing plant to ensure the safety of its colleagues.

“There have been multiple incidents of indiscipline, threats to our management personnel as well as attempts to disrupt production lines by certain workmen,” Pfizer had said in its statement.

The plant employs 212 workmen. But the disruption would not affect medicine supplies, it had added.

A lockout notice legally gives both sides two weeks to iron out differences, following which it could lead to a shutdown or the court if the situation is unresolved, employees familiar with the development said.

In recent years, labour issues have been cropping up in sectors such as the automotive industry. And this time, the fate of the multinational drug company’s plant and its employees hangs in balance.

Historic plant

This is an old plant and the last in India directly under Pfizer. There is another in Goa, but under Wyeth, a fellow-multinational in the process of being merged with Pfizer. The merger is part of Pfizer’s global acquisition of Wyeth in a $68-billion deal in January 2009.

No manufacturing has been taking place at the Thane plant, both company and union representatives say, differing though on the timeframe that the plant has been virtually lying idle. The unit used to make formulations or finished forms of medicine, a person familiar with the operations said.

The exact trigger for the lockout notice is not clear. A member of the Pfizer employees union said that they have been in discussions with the management for over six years on the issue of a raise in workmen’s salaries, and more recently over medical coverage. Employees are getting frustrated, he said, denying allegations of indiscipline.

Pfizer clarified, “We have engaged the workmen in many conversations in the past to maintain harmonious relations.” The charter of demands is a separate issue, the spokesperson said, and is not the reason for the current notice for lockout. “As the matter relating to charter of demands is subjudice, we cannot comment further,” the spokesperson added.

Land sharks snooping?

The union member further alleged that the Thane plant could fall prey to land-sharks, as several companies including Pfizer have in the past sold their plants to real estate companies.

This has been a trend in the recent past, across sectors, with chemical to automotive companies resorting to selling land to raise funds. In 2004, GlaxoSmithKline Pharmaceuticals had sold its Worli plot for Rs 107 crore to I-Ven Realty Ltd, a joint venture between ICICI Venture Funds Management Company Ltd and Oberoi Constructions. And in late 2012, Bayer Crop Science sold its Thane land for Rs 1,250 crore to the Kalpataru group.

Pfizer had several plants in its fold from mega global acquisitions. A decade ago, Pfizer had indicated that its strategy was to have one plant in every country. In fact, it is not necessary to have a manufacturing plant, observes an industry-insider, as much work is getting done through third parties on contract.

Pfizer, however, said it was following the due process required and complying with all laws of the land. “We have given VRS (voluntary retirement service) in the past and will continue to provide options to our colleagues for the future. We do not comment on speculations,” the company representative said, referring to queries on whether the plant was on the block.

Quickly

2004 - Pfizer sold its Ankleshwar plant (Gujarat) to Anodyne Remedies India for Rs 4.5 crore.

2007 - Pfizer sold its Chandigarh property to CSJ Infrastructure for Rs 278 crore.

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Published on August 03, 2014
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