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150 workers 'temporarily' laid off at Swords pharma plant from today

The issue was raised in the Dáil today.

SK Biotek Ireland ltd on Watery Ln, Swords, Co Dublin.
SK Biotek Ireland ltd on Watery Ln, Swords, Co Dublin.
Image: Google Streetview

A DISPUTE BETWEEN a pharmaceutical company’s management and trade unions has resulted in 150 employees being “temporarily” laid off with immediate effect. 

Trade union Siptu said that its 87 members at the SK Biotek pharmaceutical ingredients plant in Swords were refused entry to their workplace this morning.

Siptu organiser Jim Fuery said that the company wrote to its members in a letter that arrived on Monday morning “informing them it was placing them on protective notice” and that the plant would not be operating from 8.30am today.

“In a gesture of goodwill to the company, last Saturday our members suspended industrial action which began in October. In response the company has, in effect, locked them out of their workplace,” he said, calling it “completely unacceptable behaviour”.

In a statement to TheJournal.ie, SK Biotek said that it had been implementing ‘a change programme’ at the company since 2018 to make it more competitive, and that it was disappointed that unions had decided on industrial action over negotiations. 

“Due to the complexity of our manufacturing processes and requirement to ensure the safety of all people on site as well as the safety and stability of processes,” the statement said, “this industrial action has caused the company to effectively close down its core manufacturing operations.

As a result of these developments, the company had no option but to issue Protective Notice to employees in the impacted areas, with temporary layoffs commencing from Wednesday 13 November.

The term “Protective Notice” is used by employers to communicate to employees that it expects people to be made redundant at a certain stage unless there is a change in circumstances.

A takeover in 2017

Siptu said that the industrial action relates to a “failure to respect the terms of a collective agreement” which was part of a protection for employees in a TUPE agreement (transfer of undertakings).

This agreement was struck, it said when the plant was brought under new management in December 2017, and guaranteed Siptu members’ terms and conditions until 2022.

“Our members were forced into taking industrial action as a last resort because of the intransigence of management which has refused to attend conciliation conferences at the Workplace Relations Commission in breach of the collective agreement.”

We are calling on the company to immediately end the lockout of our members and allow them to return to work. 

“Management must also engage with Siptu and other union representatives to resolve the ongoing dispute.”

SK Biotek said its change programme would enable its Irish business “to operate competitively in the global CDMO market”, and will be “to the long-term benefit” of the business and its employees (CMDO stands for ‘contract development and manufacturing organisation’).

The company labelled this week’s “increased” industrial action as “counterproductive” and “not in the best interests of employees”.

It said that it has written formally to both trade unions and have requested they respond urgently and to re-engage in appropriate discussions through the Workplace Relations Commission “as a matter of urgency”.

In this case, and with a cessation of industrial action, manufacturing could recommence, and layoffs reversed.

SK Biotek said that it “remains committed to building a sustainable and competitive business in Ireland”.

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