Hundreds of workers from drug-maker giant Teva Pharmaceutical Industries on Sunday rallied against plans to fire some 1,750 Israeli employees — some one-quarter of its local workforce — in demonstrations held across the country.
Protesters gathered outside the company’s offices in Jerusalem, in the coastal cities of Netanya and Ashdod, and in the central Israeli city of Petah Tikva, in demonstrations that coincided with a morning solidarity strike that shuttered Israel’s airports, banks, and government offices.
The company’s restructuring plan, announced last week, will see the firing of 14,000 Teva workers worldwide over the next two years, more than a quarter of Teva’s global workforce of over 55,000.
In Jerusalem, protesters blocked traffic as they began walking from the company’s two factories — both threatened with closure — in the Har Hotzvim industrial area towards the Prime Minister’s office. Police said protesters had set tires on fire, which were quickly extinguished.
The roads into the capital was also being blocked by demonstrators, with police urging drivers to seek alternate routes.
Demonstrators in Petah Tikva also blocked traffic on the main Jabotinsky thoroughfare.
In Ashdod, workers set tires on fire outside the Teva offices.
The protests were held in parallel to a four-hour solidarity strike — the largest labor action to hit the country in several years — shutting down nearly all parts of the public sector from 8 a.m. to midday.
Banks, the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange, post offices, government offices, the Knesset, ports, airports, insurance companies, the stock exchange, the courts, banks, post offices, phone companies, Israel Electric Corporation, health services, universities, local municipalities and regional councils were all closed on Sunday morning, along with Teva facilities across the country.
With most schools off for the Hanukkah holiday, several museums which are normally popular during the holiday were also closed, including the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, and the Eretz Israel Museum and Museum of the Jewish People in Tel Aviv.
At the country’s main Ben Gurion international airport, seven flights were canceled and many others moved up to avoid the strike.
Public transportation was not affected by the strike. The Histadrut labor union chief Avi Nissenkorn said this was to avoid inconveniencing IDF soldiers returning to their military bases after the weekend.
On Thursday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke with Nissenkorn and pledged to try to minimize layoffs and keep Teva’s Jerusalem factories open.
Both Netanyahu and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon said they intended to meet with Teva’s CEO Kare Schultz when he visits Israel.
Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat attended the protest in the capital.
The solidarity strike was called by the powerful Histadrut trade union following an announcement by Teva Pharmaceutical Industries last week that it would slash its work force in Israel by about a quarter as part of a large reorganization plan to save the ailing pharma giant.
Nissenkorn said Saturday evening the strike is meant to send a “clear message” the union would not accept the layoffs of Israeli workers.
“We are fighting for the workers of Teva, to save the industry in Israel and to support blue and white,” said Nissenkorn. “Organized labor has been enlisted and is sending a clear message.”
Teva has been saddled with debt after its $40 billion acquisition of the generics arm of rival Allergan was completed last year.
The acquisition has been accompanied by low prices for generics, particularly in the United States, a major market.
Teva expects to save $3 billion by the end of 2019 with the two-year restructuring plan.
According to Histadrut, Teva has received $6.2 billion in tax reductions since 2006.