GlaxoSmithKline manufacturing staffers in UK vote to strike over 'derisory' pay raise offer

An industrial brawl could be brewing at GlaxoSmithKline.

Hundreds of GSK employees in the U.K. have voted to strike against a “derisory” pay raise offer from the British Big Pharma, local labor union Unite said in a release Wednesday.

Eighty-six percent of GSK Unite members voted in favor of the strike, giving GSK just 48 hours to make a “much-improved offer” lest they act, the union said.

Unite is angling for a pay increase more closely-aligned to the local rate of inflation, which hit a 30-year high in the U.K. of 7% back in March, Reuters pointed out

The true rate of inflation currently stands at 9%, Unite said.

“Never before have our members at GSK voted for strike action,” Sharon Graham, Unite’s general secretary, said in a release, adding that the employees’ “anger is a clear response to the company’s colossal corporate greed.”

Glaxo, for its part, sees things differently.

“We [recognize] the impact inflation rates are having on people around the country and are strongly committed to supporting the skilled people who work in GSK manufacturing,” a company spokesperson said over email.

The spokesperson said the company has offered a 4% increase to base salary, as well as a one-off award worth about 2% of base salary, plus an annual bonus for 2021, “which paid out above-target.”

That conflicts with the 2.75% increase cited in Unite’s release, GSK pointed out.

GSK said it employs about 3,500 people at its U.K. pharma manufacturing sites, with its total headcount in the country around 13,000. The strike ballot just covered Unite members—of whom there are about 700, GSK’s spokesperson said.

Breaking the numbers down further, GSK said around 500 Unite members voted, with 430 voting in favor of the strike. That amounts to some 13% of its manufacturing workforce and 4% of its U.K. workforce in favor of the protest.

GSK has about 175 members in fellow U.K. trade union GMB, who did not vote for strike action in their ballot, GSK noted.

“We are disappointed that the Unite union has taken the decision to strike, but remain committed to working with them to find a solution,” the spokesperson added.

Unite, for its part, took umbrage at GSK’s “mega profits” in 2021, plus the 17% pay bump awarded to its CEO Emma Walmsley, who pocketed £8.2 million (about $10.69 million) last year.

“GSK pocketed more than £34 billion in profits last year yet expects its workforce to swallow a pay cut in the midst of a cost of living crisis,” general secretary Graham added in the union’s release.

Problem is, that £34 billion quote was for sales, not profits, GSK added in its email response to Fierce Pharma.

The company also explained the rationale behind Walmsley’s upsized pay package.

“As CEO, Emma Walmsley has a larger portion of her pay based on performance than other colleagues in the company,” GSK’s spokesperson said. “Her remuneration in 2021 reflects strong performance in the year. The increase in the pay ratio for 2021 is due to a higher level of bonus received compared to 2020, reflecting higher business and individual performance.”

The spokesperson added that Walmsley’s base pay only increased 2% in 2021.

This isn’t GSK’s first tangle with manufacturing staffers, either. Back in 2016, the company halted production at a consumer health plant in India that made Horlicks nutritional drink products after workers initiated a “flash strike.”

In a filing at the time, GSK didn’t say what might have precipitated the strike, but it told Fierce Pharma over the phone that it occurred after the company suspended an employee.

“As a company, we aim to maintain healthy industrial relations across all our factories and are committed to resolving the situation quickly through discussions with all relevant parties,” GSK told Fierce Pharma at the time.