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MSD Korea’s trade union refuses to use controversial monitoring program
  • By Kim Yun-mi
  • Published 2020.06.11 14:31
  • Updated 2020.06.11 14:31
  • comments 0

The labor union of MSD Korea went up and arms about the company’s enhanced Self Assurance Program (SAP), which records conversations of doctors at a product briefing as part of its compliance monitoring.

It also demanded the company’s official clarification on why it unanimously decided to expand the program and why the Korean branch had to operate SAP while those in the U.S. and Europe did not.

The trade union said it recently sent the official letter requesting for the clarification to the management.

Earlier, MSD Korea notified all employees that the company would apply the SAP to 5 percent of randomly selected product briefing meetings of two to 25 persons from July 30. Under the SAP, salespersons and doctors participating in the meetings get a notification that an external agent will collect their conversations 45 minutes before the event.

According to the labor union’s letter obtained by Korea Biomedical Review, the union said, “Concerning the implementation of the SAP, the management broke its promise to announce it in advance with a grace period, and we feel deeply sorry for the unilateral and sudden announcement.”

The unionized workers demanded the company explain why it made such an abrupt decision.

The union noted that MSD’s SAP monitors all the conversations with clients, including those in dining and that its monitoring level is extremely excessive that could be found in no other company’s compliance program.

“Neither employees nor clients can understand this. There might be different legal interpretations, and many issues could emerge. Therefore, we demand the company give us an answer that can convince everyone,” the labor union said.

The trade union also pointed out that MSD operated SAP only in several countries, excluding the U.S. and Europe.

According to MSD Korea’s announcement for expanding SAP, the company said SAP would be applied to all countries in MSD International, where “small meetings” take place, except for the U.S. and some European countries, as cited in the “Global Standard 5.2.13.”

The labor union said the management had to explain precisely why MSD called Korea an emerging market and categorized it as a “higher risk country” to operate SAP.

Korea has an anti-graft law, mandates pharmaceutical firms to keep records of all the “economic benefits” given to doctors and pharmacists, and applies fair trade rules to prevent illegal rebates between drugmakers and doctors, the labor union said. That said, it was unfair for MSD to classify Korea as a higher-risk country.

In the letter to the management, the labor union requested a document ensuring that the company would not force salespersons to hold a product-related explanation (PRE) meeting or a group presentation (GP) and that the company would not evaluate such meetings.

Until 2018, MSD Korea included “event performance (score 1 for lunch, 2 for dinner)” in the sales representatives’ evaluation. Although the company took out the item from 2019, the company continued to pressure salespeople to hold product briefings so that they could spend the remaining budget. To prevent such pressure, the labor union officially requested the management to seek other alternatives.

If physicians boycott MSD drugs due to the privacy breach issue caused by SAP, the company has to be held accountable, instead of salespersons, the trade union emphasized.

The Tuesday report of Korea Biomedical Review on the tougher SAP was left with comments such as “I can’t use a drug of a company that treats doctors like criminals,” and “I can’t understand why the Korean Medical Association does not boycott this company.”

In response to the controversy, MSD Korea said the labor union’s claim that the company was forcing them to hold a product briefing goes against its principle.

“The company will make efforts to prepare complementary measures,” it said.

However, MSD Korea made it clear that it would not change its decision on SAP.

“Reinforcing transparent and legitimate business activities is a direction that the global industry should agree upon. Any change has a beginning, and MSD will be the first action taker to undergo trial and error,” the company said. “The management and labor will reach an agreement over time.”


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