MSD Korea used to be called one of the best workplaces in the pharmaceutical industry in Korea. However, employees’ complaints have mounted over deteriorating welfare and excessive monitoring of salespersons, according to the company’s labor union.
The Korean offshoot of the U.S.-based multinational drugmaker recently formed a labor union to tackle the issues.
However, negotiations between the labor union and the management came to a deadlock after the company took several disciplinary measures against the head of the labor union.
Employees at MSD Korea established the labor union in November to curb the management’s unilateral decisions on employee welfare policies. The union is the 17th member of Korea Democratic Pharmaceutical Union (KDPU).
In just a few months after the birth of the union, over 390 workers joined the group. The workers’ quick participation in the labor union showed how much they were unhappy about company policies, labor union members said.
MSD Korea marked the lowest score in “Voice Survey,” a global employee opinion survey carried out every year, among MSD’s units around the world, according to the union. The Korean unit received the global headquarters’ “guideline,” apparently a warning, because of the low score in the Voice Survey, it said.
After the formation of the union, the management offered to pay compensation for unused annual leave, but the company paid it only partially, the labor union said.
The union also argued that MSD Korea’s working conditions, benefits, and welfare policies backpedaled, while sales grew every year.
“Despite its status as one of the top 10 global pharmaceutical firms, the company’s working environment is getting worse. The company hires salespersons only as irregular workers,” a member of MSD Korea’s labor union said. “In the past, over 90 percent of irregular employees could become regular workers. However, now, it’s not possible. When irregular workers leave, the rest employees have to share the workload.”
Besides, MSD Korea monitors activities of salespersons excessively, using an external monitoring system called “Self-Assurance,” the labor union said. The company designates an external agency to check if MSD employees meet the company’s requirements and keep compliance during external events such as a product briefing for doctors.
While other multinationals are scrapping such monitoring system due to its inefficiency, only MSD is still using it, the labor union said.
Such product promotions often lead to lunches or dinners with clients, mostly physicians. During meals, the external agency records client names, menus, and even conversations between MSD Korea employees and physicians. MSD Korea workers complain that such monitoring is the company’s “gapjil” against employees. Gapjil is a Korean word for abuse of power by those in superior positions against the weak.
The labor union claimed that such recording of conversations without clients’ consent could violate the Personal Information Protection Act.
“We’ve been calling it excessive monitoring and raising the issue since last year. The management says we can ditch a product briefing if it is so problematic. However, this is part of our job, and it is directly linked to our incentives,” a labor union member said. “The company keeps the monitoring system because they don’t trust us.”
Another official said, “Unlike in the past when our company was called the best workplace, there is a big communication gap between the management and employees.”
The labor union has made a slogan, “Back to MSD,” to demand the company restore its employee welfare, he said.
To address the problems, the labor union has had five rounds of talks with the management.
However, the management sent a written warning to the head of the labor union three or four times, and the negotiations hit a snag.
The company warned him because he spent work hours for labor union activities including sending e-mails through the intranet.
A member of the Korea Democratic Pharmaceutical Union said MSD Korea’s management did not seem to recognize the legitimacy of the labor union. “We could not even discuss our issues,” he said.
MSD Korea, however, refuted the claims of the labor union, calling them groundless.
“We gave options to employees either to receive financial compensation for unused annual leave or let the unused annual leave transferred to the following year,” MSD Korea said. “We’re continuously reviewing and updating related regulations and activities to provide a good working environment.”
The company maintains the Self-Assurance program “to ensure legitimacy, transparency, balance, and accuracy when delivering medical and product information to stakeholders.”
“We’re steadily reviewing and improving internal procedures following related laws and regulations. This program complies with these standards, and we believe it will help employees to interact with their stakeholders most appropriately and professionally,” the company said.
Also, the company was making all efforts to engage in negotiations with the union, so that employees and the company can grow together through smooth management-labor talks, MSD Korea added.