Hundreds of Teva employees in white coats picketed on Monday and blocked the road to the Finance Ministry in Jerusalem, where Histadrut labor federation head Avi Nissenkorn met with Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon and Economy Minister Eli Cohen over impending mass layoffs.
Kahlon said that the government would fight for Teva employees, one in four of whom – some 1,750 people – might lose their jobs. The world’s largest generic drugmaker, Teva is also one of Israel’s biggest employers, with around 6,400 workers locally.
“The Israeli government stands behind the Teva employees and will not abandon them,” Kahlon said. “The government will use all possible tools at its disposal to try to attempt and to bring a reduction in the number of layoffs and factory closures.” Kahlon did not specify any concrete steps decided at the meeting.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is set to meet with Teva CEO Kare Schultz on Tuesday afternoon, in an attempt to reduce the number of layoffs and guarantee compensation for those who are let go. Israel has given Teva an estimated NIS 22b. in tax benefits and subsides over the past decade, and the layoff plans have triggered outrage from politicians and workers.
State Control Committee chairwoman MK Shelly Yacimovich (Zionist Union) said that Teva hasn’t paid a shekel in taxes since 2013, claiming the company refuses to pay its 2014 and 2015 tax bills.
Monday was the second day of a strike called by the Histadrut, in which Teva employees who are union members skipped work at offices and factories nationwide.
In Ashdod, Teva employees picketed the company’s medical plant and blocked a main artery in the city. Other protests were held at a plant in Netanya and in Kfar Saba, where employees were reportedly planning to hold an afternoon strike.
In Jerusalem, where workers have barricaded themselves inside the factory since Sunday, the head of the workers’ committee threatened to blow up the facility.
“Our factory is a ticking time bomb, we have a stockpile of explosive and poisonous materials – all of the country should be on alert,” Itzik Ben Simon, chairman of the workers’ committee at Jerusalem’s Teva tablets factory, told Reshet Channel 13 News.
The unrest came after a half-day general strike on Sunday morning shuttered Ben-Gurion Airport, government ministries, banks and the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange.
Based on market value, Teva was Israel’s largest company until last year. The poorly-timed acquisition of Allergan’s generic drug unit for $40.5b. in 2016, coupled with increased generic-drug competition in the US, left Teva with a hefty debt burden and severely reduced cash flow. The US Food and Drug Administration further tightened the noose in October by approving a competitor to Copaxone, Teva’s cash-cow drug for the treatment of multiple sclerosis.
That all calls into question whether Teva can pay off its enormous $35b. debt after 2018.
Last week, the company said it would reduce its global workforce by more than a quarter, some 14,000 jobs, and close a number of facilities. Teva intends to reduce its costs by $3b. within two years, reducing estimated expenses of $16.1b. for 2017.