Mumbai: Five years after it fired 23 sales personnel, Wockhardt Ltd has been asked by a labour court in Mumbai to reinstate them and pay them the salary and benefits lost over this period.
The labour court of Bombay has said that Wockhardt, India’s fifth largest pharma company by revenues, had failed to prove that the decision was taken on appropriate grounds. The company said it plans to challenge the ruling in the industrial court of Bombay.
The case was filed by the 23 medical representatives who were fired and the Federation of Medical and Sales Representatives Associations of India (FMRAI), an association of sales people at pharmaceutical companies. “We have already secured an interim stay on implementing the labour court judgment in anticipation of the appeal,” said a spokesperson for Wockhardt.
Krishna Kant Kadam, all India secretary, FMRAI, said the company had terminated the services of these employees five years ago without following any of the mandatory procedures.
Other representatives of FMRAI, who did not wish to be identified, said that Wockhardt fired the 23 for refusing to have their designations changed to ‘sales managers’—the new designation, they allege, would have prevented these employees from becoming members of FMRAI and also removed them from the purview of labour protection laws. FMRAI is one of the strongest trade unions in the country’s pharmaceutical industry and represents more than 50,000 medical and sales representatives.
In a statement issued after it fired these employees, Wockhardt had said that it had also snapped its relationship with FMRAI and alleged that this organization was disrupting the work of the company’s sales staff and making unreasonable demands. The severance of Wockhardt’s relationship with the association was “part of a broader initiative to make the company more customer-centric and competitive,” Wockhardt chairman Habil Khorakiwala had said in the statement.
Currently, about 85% of Wockhardt’s 1,500-strong field personnel are territory managers; only 150 of them are members of the federation.
Kadam alleged that there is a rising trend in the drug industry of firms wanting to evade the labour protection rules and “kill the trade union movement...”. “The drug industry in Maharashtra is already pushing for a special Bill to exclude the medical representatives and pharmaceutical workers from the protection of Maharashtra Recognition of Trade Unions and Prevention of Unfair Labour Practices Act,” he said.