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CEOs of foreign pharmaceuticals don't seem to regard Korean employees as colleagues[Special] Talks with union leaders of multinational drugmakers in Korea ①
  • By Park Gi-taek
  • Published 2017.07.13 18:20
  • Updated 2017.07.14 09:11
  • comments 0

In Korea, most people perceive multinational companies as “good workplaces.” These companies provide high salaries, good working conditions, handsome benefits, and transparent personnel management system based on capability.

However, the chanting of employees at multinational pharmaceuticals who took the street recently were completely different stories. Among the complaints were “companies easily ax workers” or “managers discriminate unionized employees in personnel affairs.”

A worker at the Baxter branch of Korea Democratic Pharmaceutical Union (KDPU)한국민주제약노동조합 staged a one-person protest with a picketed saying, “Baxter should comply with the Korean labor law and withdraw unfair layoffs.”'

Korea Biomedical Review met with Kim Moon-oh김문오, chairman of the union to talk about the management of multinational pharmaceuticals that have Korean operations as well as their perceptions of labor unions. Kim works at Sanofi-Pasteur사노피-파스퇴르’s Korean offshoot.

The union founded in 2012 have chapters at 13 Korean operations of multinational pharmaceuticals -- Sanofi-Pasteur, Zuellig Pharma Korea한국쥴릭파마코리아, Astrazeneca Korea한국아스트라제네카, Takeda Korea한국다케다, Baxter Korea한국박스터, Janssen Korea한국얀센, Merck Korea한국머크, Ferring Pharmaceuticals Korea한국페링제약, BMS Pharmaceuticals Korea한국BMS제약, Allergan Korea한국앨러간, Fresenius-kabi Korea프레지니우스카비코리아 and Novo Nordisk Pharma Korea한국노보노디스크.

Chairman Kim Moon-oh, chairman of KDPU, discusses labor-management relationship at multinational pharmaceuticals operating here during a recent interview with Korea Biomedical Review.

Q: Five years have passed since the union was launched. What are its principal performances?

Answer: Holiday work allowances are one of the results. We had received only transportation expenses for working on Saturdays and Sundays. Even though the headquarters of multinational pharmaceuticals have been implementing the holiday work allowance system and the Korean labor laws stipulate it, these giant companies’ Korean offshoots had not. The union has tried to change these unfair practices.

In the past, the Korean branch managers used the headquarters’ guideline as their weapons when they conducted wage negotiations. A single union had to accept it often. But the industrial union reduced the unilateral moves. The corporate chapter unions have to follow our guideline, and cannot conduct bargaining out of it. They have come to be able to use our rules as “shield” to fight with “the spear” named the headquarters’ guidelines. Workers are restoring their rights one by one.

Besides, we helped to create jobs. After the launch of the union, multinational pharmaceuticals hired managers responsible for labor affairs.

Q: There are 40 member companies at the Korean Research-based Pharma Industry Association (KRPIA)글로벌의약산업협회, a Korea-based multinational pharmaceuticals group. Among them, only 13 companies have joined the union. This means the union has a limit to represent the voices of multinational drugmakers here as a whole.

A: It’s up to each union has to decide the advantages and disadvantages of joining the union. But it is true some multinational pharmaceuticals are not out members, such as Pfizer 화이자 and GSK, are sympathizing to us. As each union has different problems, we are leaving it (admission) to their respective judgment.

Q: What are reactions from unionists outside KDPU?

A: They envy us. The union members have a sense of identity, belonging and pride. In contrast, companies don’t like employees to join KDPU. Businesses that don’t have labor unions are afraid of their employees forming one, and those with unions are scared of people trying to accede to the industrial union.

Q: Do you feel the managers are afraid of the union?

A: Yes. When individual unions threatened to join KDPU, their employers reportedly said they would hold negotiations on condition of not joining the industrial union. This is the story I’ve heard from the unionists who recently joined our union.

Q: Many people want to work for multinational pharmaceuticals. Many multinational pharmaceuticals are selected as “good workplaces.” But labor unions seem to have different opinions

A: To be honest, 10 years ago, the salaries of multinational pharmaceuticals were better than those of Korean drugmakers. But there is little difference now. Over the last decade, some multinational pharmaceuticals failed to make high growth with some even recording a negative growth. The situations made multinational pharmaceuticals fire employees and set salaries lower than before. The average years of services here are relatively short. Even managers in their 40s have to worry about leaving.

People think foreign companies have good working conditions and corporate culture. However, their corporate culture is not much different from Korean companies whether the CEOs are Koreans or foreigners.

Q: What are the characteristics of CEOs at multinational pharmaceuticals in Korean branches?

A: Foreign CEOs in Korea seem to think Korean employees as people they have to govern. They don’t consider employees as co-workers but lower-level people. And they just want to maximize the benefits of the headquarters. Korean CEOs don’t represent Korean workers, either, and instead, keep watching the faces of headquarters and represent the latter’s interests.

Also, the number of “manager-type” CEOs has increased. Because Korean pharmaceutical markets have remained stagnant, companies tried to cut costs rather than making aggressive investments, which explains why Early Retirement Program (ERP) has become prevalent.

Q: It sounds as if multinational pharmaceuticals don’t recognize labor activities or labor rights in Korea.

A: Basically, they don’t. I felt they just treat us troublemakers or a group to interfere with management. As labor unions in home countries, such as the U.S., France, Switzerland, and England are performing briskly, people tend to think the situations will be similar in their Korean operations with managers respecting and understanding labor unions in Korea, but they don’t. CEOs in Korea value only profits and results and they don’t treat unions as their equals.

They even don’t guarantee workers’ rights in the Korean labor law. For example, some companies don’t pay compensations for unused annual or monthly leaves. If workers complain, companies go to the court to solve it. They impose disciplinary actions too frequently. If the labor union comes forward to protest, managers show displeasure about what they see as interference in their managements.

Q: In the past, I heard multinational pharmaceuticals had rewards when they6 implement ERP.

A: ERP is meaningful only when it is limited to applicants, but now, it isn’t. If headquarters want to reduce the number of workers, companies fired employees with poor performances or who leave bad impressions on managers. There should not be unfair layoffs.

Q: It is understandable when companies fire people due to worsening management situation or the orders from the headquarters.

A: We have to keep principles. Companies said all operations would be based on ERP, but many companies seek voluntary quitters under the pretext of ERP. And they easily fire people. This had much to do with the previous governments’ policies. Because the government exerts significant influence on Korean pharmaceutical companies, multinational corporations watch officials’ faces.

Ten years ago, I felt companies had shown much interested in the relationship with the union, but they have easily fired people and took disciplinary actions in recent 10 years because the government didn’t interfere in these kinds of affairs. I hope the situations will change under the new administration and multinational pharmaceuticals show improved attitudes as the incumbent government has shown great interests in the labor-management relationship.

Q: What are the plans for the union?

A: We will put the priority on improving the rights and interests of unionists. Especially we will do everything with union members unfairly dismissed. And we have plans to do various activities to contribute to the development of the pharmaceutical industry. To that end, we will make a channel to the government and cooperate with medical and pharmaceutical organizations to make a united stand.


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