Novartis Pharma is planning significant job cuts at its plant in Vilvoorde, Flemish Brabant, although the company's management and unions differ on the exact number of workers to be dismissed.
Union sources said on Thursday after an extraordinary works council meeting that the pharmaceutical company planned to cut around 100 jobs, over a third of its employees, in Vilvoorde over the next two years. However, Novartis management said that number was wrong.
In July management had announced its intention to lay off around fifty people. On Thursday, the unions said they had learned that at least 30 other workers would be released, along with 20 external consultants whose contracts would not be renewed.
"These are declarations of intention marking the start of the information and consultation phase with the social partners," Gina Volkaert, Novartis Pharma's spokesperson for Belgium and Luxembourg, explained in a press statement. "The real impact will only become clear after the completion of the information and consultation phase."
"The news has hit us really hard," commented Kevin Lefever of the liberal union. "Staff are now wondering about the future of the Vilvoorde site as a whole."
Novartis Pharma employs 288 workers in Vilvoorde. A few years ago, it had 350 employees there, according to Lefever. "This is the third restructuring in five years," he noted. "The workers are distraught."
The union hopes more jobs can be saved even though management says there is little chance of that.
"For the restructuring announced today, the management in Belgium was placed before a fait accompli by head office," a source charged. "It was decided to stop doing research on medication here."
"That, too, is not true," countered Volkaert. "The more than 100 studies currently being done in Belgium will be continued, with no impact on the patients."