Sanofi union members set strike date in Korea as wage negotiations stall: report

Fed up with a low salary increase, unionized Sanofi workers in South Korea have threatened to go on strike.

The workers will strike next month after failing to reach an agreement on a new wage plan with local Sanofi management during a mediation process, Korea Biomedical Review reports.

Under instruction from the global headquarters, Sanofi Aventis Korea only allows a 1.5% increase to keep in line with inflation, the union told the Korean online news site.

But the union wants more. It originally called for an increase of 7.6% considering the unit’s sales grew by about 7% even during the COVID-19 pandemic, union leader Park Young reportedly told the news outlet.

The two sides had held eight rounds of negotiations and entered a mediation process. Since then, the union has lowered its demand to about 4%, while Sanofi refused to sweeten its offer at all, according to the union.

“We can’t understand why executives at Sanofi-Korea won’t tell the global headquarters about what we achieved here,” Park said, as quoted by Korea Biomed. “Despite major achievements, we can’t receive a reasonable compensation due to guidelines from the global headquarters.”

As the mediation has fallen through, the union has secured enough support to go on strike next month if the two parties still can’t reach a deal by then, according to Korea Biomed.

In a response to the news site, a spokesperson with Sanofi Korea acknowledged the difference but said, “we will do our best to engage in negotiations with sincerity and to negotiate smoothly.” Sanofi’s global team didn’t immediately reply to a Fierce Pharma request for comment by publication time.

The wage dispute comes as the union is suing Sanofi Korea’s general manager and human resources head for failing to pay four members overtime allowances, according to a Korea Biomed report in April. It’s a relatively small dispute, considering the union argues the company underpaid the four employees by altogether 11 million won (about $8,600) over three years.

Other large pharma companies have faced strike threats in Korea in the past. In 2020, Lundbeck managed to avoid such a scene shortly before a planned strike by offering a tentative deal guaranteeing various union and employee benefits.

Back in 2019, Takeda had a similar episode where its Korean employees accused the Japanese drugmaker of favoring former Shire staffers during the two firms’ megamerger, including in wage increase rates and adjustments to their roles.

Elsewhere, GSK this year faced a potential strike in the United Kingdom, but the sides eventually reached a deal.