Friday 15 November 2019

Total of 320 jobs to be lost at Novartis Cork: 'People are worried.... a lot are there 25 years or more'

Logo of drugmaker Novartis is seen at its branch in Schweizerhalle near Basel, Switzerland
Logo of drugmaker Novartis is seen at its branch in Schweizerhalle near Basel, Switzerland

Ralph Riegel

ONE of Ireland's main pharmaceutical employers, Novartis, is set to axe 320 jobs as part of a major restructuring of its Irish operation.

Novartis, which employs more than 1,000 people across Ireland, confirmed the job losses at a meeting of workers at its main Ringaskiddy plant in Cork at 8.15am today.

The meeting was called just hours after US electronics firm, Molex, confirmed the loss of almost 500 jobs in Clare with the closure of its Shannon plant next year.

Irish industry was reeling from the prospective loss of more than 800 jobs in the space of just 24 hours.

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Novartis has two major operations on the same campus in Ringaskiddy - a pharmaceutical manufacturing plant and a joint services operation.

A third facility on Cork's Model Farm Road is no longer operated by the firm.

Novartis also has a Dublin based shared services operation but this will be unaffected by the planned cuts.

The cuts will involve 240 job losses within its Ringaskiddy manufacturing plant and a further 80 job losses in the Cork-based shared services division.

The 80 job losses are expected to take place by 2020/2021. The 240 manufacturing jobs are set to be shed by 2021-2022.

Workers acknowledged that they had expected bad news but were relieved to hear the Swiss firm will retain its Cork manufacturing presence.

Joe Barry, who has worked for Novartis for 18 years, said the firm have been great employers.

"We knew things were coming down the line," he said.

"I work in the API (manufacturing section). It is kind of a global thing really - it is the way the pharmaceutical firms are going, smaller volume which is contracted out to whoever can do it cheaper," he said.

"As you would expect, people are worried. A lot of people are there 25 years or more. We will have to wait and see what pans out. It could change - these things can change.

"I don't hold out much hope but you don't know.

"They have invested a lot of money in there. We were kind of hoping - but I would never say die. It is (a shock). We knew they were trying to sell it but they put a lot of investment into the area as well.

"All the factories down through the years, Fords, Dunlops - they all did the same thing. The wipe of a pen - it is not going to work or we can do it cheaper somewhere else."

Mr Barry said staff are hopeful they will secure alternative employment given the strength of the local economy and, in particular, the major Cork pharma-chem sector.

"There are a lot of people taking on (workers). Employment chances are OK - but the demographic might have something to do with it. We have quite an older demographic but you'd be hopeful you'd pick up something.

"I personally think there might be a chance that something could happen - there could be a corporate change in policy but that is probably trying to look on the bright side."

Tanaiste Simon Coveney, who is a Cork South Central TD for the Ringaskiddy area, expressed his shock at the Novartis job losses.

"This news is a significant blow and very difficult for the highly skilled workers of Novartis and their families," he said.

"I have spoken to the Enterprise Minister Heather Humpreys as well as the IDA to ensure all available supports from state agencies are now open to the staff affected by this Novartis announcement.

"The staff are highly skilled in the competitive pharmaceutical industry and the state agencies will use the three year timeline laid out by Novartis to work with the company and the workers to protect employment."

It is estimated that Novartis economic activity in Ireland is worth more than €250 million to the domestic economy - with the firm also delivering around €230 million in direct spending on wages, research and development, service supports and purchasing.

Opened in 1994 in Ringaskiddy under the Sandoz brand, the facility now ranks as one of the major pharmaceutical-chemical operations in the Cork harbour area.

Ringaskiddy has established itself as one of the world's leading pharmaceutical hubs and ranks as one of the biggest employment centres not just in Cork but in the south west.

The last major round of job cuts occurred in Ringaskiddy when US pharmaceutical giant, Pfizer, reduced its production capacity in Cork in 2012/2013 with the loss of more than 200 jobs.

The firm's highest profile product, Viagra, has its active ingredient, Sildenafil, manufactured in Ringaskiddy.

Pfizer also cut 150 jobs in Kildare in 2013.

Cork boasts manufacturing or research and development operations for some of the leading pharmaceutical firms in the world including Novartis, Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson,  Eli Lily and MSD.

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