UPDATED: Pfizer manufacturing workers walk out after similar pay disputes at GSK, Novo Nordisk

After disgruntled workers took aim at GSK, and Novo Nordisk earlier this year, pandemic juggernaut Pfizer has found itself in the industrial action firing line.

A clutch of Pfizer manufacturing workers in Australia has walked off the job to rally against a “substandard” pay raise offer by the Big Pharma, labor union United Workers Union (UWU) said Tuesday.

The production staffers took action after Pfizer’s “refusal to consider a wage increase in line" with cost of living increases, UWU said.

Specifically, Pfizer offered a 12% pay increase over three years, below the 18% raise sought by the Bentley, Australia, employees. Further, the workers pointed to Pfizer’s recent pandemic sales haul, which helped the company log $25 billion in profit last year, UWU says.

The situation extends beyond salary concerns, too. Pfizer is angling to exit the Bentley site, located in Perth, in 2024, the labor union explained. In turn, more than 100 “advanced manufacturing” jobs will be put in “limbo,” because a new buyer for the plant has yet to be secured, Unite said.

"Pfizer is currently in negotiation with the union for a new [enterprise bargaining agreement] for the company’s Perth manufacturing employees," a company spokesperson told Fierce Pharma. "Pfizer is working closely with the union to agree on a new EBA that works for all employees, which offers fair and reasonable terms for wages and allowances, and addresses the increased cost of living."

Pfizer's representative added that following a manufacturing network review, the company informed employees of its decision to mothball manufacturing in Perth by 2023 and exit the site by the first quarter of 2024. That decision was communicated last October, the spokesperson said.

"Pfizer is committed to keeping colleagues informed of the site exit process. This decision is not a reflection on the performance of our colleagues, but is in alignment with our site capacity design to meet the needs of the business," the spokesperson explained.

Meanwhile, the union warns its members reserve the right to take “indefinite action” if Pfizer refuses to return to the bargaining table.

“It really is unbelievable that, on one hand, Pfizer tells us they couldn’t possibly consider a $1.60 pay rise while shoveling out billions to shareholders across the planet,” Louise Dillion, an allied coordinator at UWU, said in a statement.

Pfizer, for its part, contends that its latest pay increase comes in addition to a roughly 10% bonus from April, plus a COVID-19 bonus paid out to employees in 2021. 

"Note, over the last 10 years, Pfizer has delivered above inflation pay increases of more than 40% in the agreement, compared with CPI of 26%," Pfizer's spokesperson added, noting that negotiations with the union and Perth employees are ongoing.

It’s been a year of heavy industrial action in the pharmaceutical realm. Back in May, GSK averted a strike in the United Kingdom after workers represented by Britain and Ireland’s biggest labor union Unite accepted an improved pay offer from the big pharma. More than 1,000 GSK staffers had threatened to take action in April, calling the drugmaker’s originally pay rise offer “derisory.”

Elsewhere, about 100 unionized Novo Nordisk Korea employees assembled outside the drugmaker’s South Seoul headquarters last month to protest a breakdown in talks over wages and cuts in employee incentives.

And Sanofi reportedly faced a potential strike in Korea, but it's not clear whether the workers went through with their June plan.

Editor's note: This story has been updated with comments from Pfizer.