India’s labour ministry is considering inserting a statutory rule in the Central Industrial Disputes Act, giving the around two million sales promotion representatives employed by the country’s drug industry the right to seek trade union protection.
Even as some drug companies claim such employees can no longer be considered ‘workers’ under the Industrial Disputes Act, a trade union claims that the government’s move will, if it goes through, prevent these employees from being mistreated or exploited by their companies.
Ajay Piramal, chairman, Nicholas Piramal India Ltd, the country’s fourth largest drug maker which has a sales force of around 3,000, said unions have lost their relevance. “Trade unionism actually eliminates freedom of companies to take the best out of an employee,” he added.
Key drug industry bodies such as Indian Drug Manufacturers’ Association (Idma), Organization of Pharmaceutical Producers of India (Oppi), and Indian Pharmaceutical Alliance (IPA) had recently asked the government to exclude sales representatives from the purview of labour laws. Industry lobbies such as the Confederation of Indian Industry and Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry are backing the pharmaceutical associations.
According to Daara Patel, secretary general, Idma, medical representatives can no longer be considered workers as they are well paid and they are part of the management. “The industry has no option but to strongly protest the government move,” he said.
The labour ministry’s proposal involves “defining the sales promotion as an industry with an amendment to Section 2 J of Industrial Disputes Act of 1947 and Sales Promotion Employees Act, 1976,” said Krishna Kant Kadam, secretary, Federation of Medical and Sales Representatives Associations of India (FMRAI), a union of sales representatives.
Kadam claimed that the labour ministry had written to FMRAI saying that both amendments are being considered. The government’s move, said FMRAI joint secretary Amitava Guha, would ensure that sales people were not the only ones penalized “for failure of products in the market.” “Ultimate market success is not only the responsibility of the sales team but also other factors like production, logistics and management decisions,” he said. And Ramesh Sunder, secretary of the Tamil Nadu state chapter of FMRAI, alleged that drug makers had started hiring sales people “as territory managers instead of medical representatives” to prevent such employees from “joining trade unions.”