The conflict between unionized workers and management at MSD Korea is intensifying over the Self-Assurance Program (SAP), a compliance monitoring program that records conversations with doctors at a product briefing.
The labor union is officially demanding the company explain why MSD takes the risk of breaching doctors’ privacy and draw up measures to correct the practice. However, the management has given only “theoretical answers” that were irrelevant to workers’ demand, the trade union said.
A member of the labor union said MSD Korea’s management on Friday replied to the union’s official letter, 10 days after receiving it.
On June 9, the labor sent the letter requesting clarification on why the management unilaterally decided to expand the program and demanding that the company guarantee it would not force drug sales representatives to hold small-scale product briefings.
“In the management’s reply letter that arrived after 10 days, there was only the repeated answer that ‘SAP represented the company’s continuous effort to maintain transparency and compliance,’” the labor union member said. “It didn’t contain any clarification or measures that the labor union demanded.”
The trade union requested again to the management, criticizing the management’s insincere answer. The union added in the letter that “an ability to empathize” was the only way to persuade employees about the management’s intention.
What employees are most unhappy about is the level of the SAP. Earlier, MSD Korea notified all workers that the company would apply the SAP to 5 percent of randomly selected product briefing meetings of two to 25 persons.
The SAP was expanded to meetings of two to 25 persons from five to 25 persons. Under the new SAP, salespersons and doctors participating in the meetings get a notification that an external agent will collect their conversations 45 minutes before the event.
The company said small product briefings had been mostly for two to four persons so far, the criteria of “five to 25 persons” have been irrelevant to the purpose of the compliance monitoring.
From the perspective of drug sales reps, however, the level of monitoring under the SAP is excessive, the labor union said. For example, if two doctors and one salesperson hold a small meeting, the company notifies the monitoring 45 minutes before starting the meeting. An external monitoring agent, a stranger to the doctors and the drugmaker’s employee, will stay with them until the meeting is over.
In response to the criticism that such monitoring could breach doctors' privacy, the company said, “The monitoring program has been improved to make reports with objective indicators.”
However, officials at many other multinational pharmaceutical firms said they could not understand why MSD Korea insists on operating a more stringent monitoring program.
Korea Biomedical Review has asked PR and compliance team members at multinational drugmakers whether their companies also had internal monitoring programs similar to MSD Korea’s SAP. Most of them replied that managers or medicine division employees, not outside monitoring agents, were checking the internal compliance.
Their internal monitoring, weaker than the SAP, was enough to check whether academic meetings were held while not hurting drug salespersons’ promotion activities.
In this regard, MSD Korea’s management is not capable of understanding the workers’ circumstances, the labor union said.
According to the trade union, MSD Korea had aggressively encouraged drug sales reps to hold small meetings with physicians and reflected their performances in personnel evaluation one or two years ago.
However, the company suddenly began to regard such meetings as “opaque and illicit acts,” the union said.
Until 2018, MSD Korea had 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.
However, the management’s reply lacked substance, the labor union said.
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.
However, the management’s reply letter only said, “The company excluded the item of small meetings from the sales performance evaluation from January 2019, after the introduction of the SAP, and there has been no change in this part,” according to the labor union.
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