But first, some clarification over just how many jobs are involved. The company announced the loss of 720 full-time jobs among office staff. However unions have pointed out that 215 temporary contracts will not be renewed. And a further 301 temporary contracts were allowed to expire in October – bringing the total number of jobs affected by restructuring plans to 1,236.
The so-called Renault law makes a programme of collective redundancies subject to negotiation with workers and government. “We want to start a dialogue, we want to understand,” Borsus (MR) said prior to the meeting. “We want to have the information we need to reflect on how we might cut the number of jobs lost.”
GSK is a major private sector employer, with some 9,000 employees at its three sites in Wallonia, at Wavre, Rixensart and Gembloux. Another 7,000 jobs are indirectly dependent on the company.
Now, the company wants to split the operation into two – consumer healthcare, with anything from personal care products to over the counter medicines; and new technologies in immunotherapy and genetics. The Belgian operation is already a major producer of vaccines, delivering some two million doses a day to 160 countries.
Among the government’s priorities, Borsus said, are keeping the GSK research centre in the region, ensuring the continuity of the enterprise as a major employer, and providing what help is available to those who lose their jobs.
“Pharmaceuticals, vaccines, biotechnologies in general make up a very very important field of activity and aspect of our exports,” Borsus said. “Also the impact on other activities, on suppliers, on service providers – all of that is structurally important to our economy, which is what we consider this an essential case. The medium and long term future of this enterprise is very important to Wallonia, as well as to all of the families concerned.”