Employees of Teva Pharmaceutical Industries on Monday threatened to blow up one of the company’s factories in Jerusalem if a final decision is taken to shut down the facility as part of planned job-cuts that would slash one-quarter of the drug manufacturer’s workforce.
“Our factory is a ticking bomb, we have a stockpile of explosive and poisonous materials — the whole country should be on alert,” Itzik Ben Simon, chairman of the workers union at the Teva tablets factory in Jerusalem, told Hadashot news.
Ben Simon was among 200 workers who had barricaded themselves into the factory the day before, and then spent the night at the site. The protesting workers had prevented managers from leaving the building, while other people — including relatives of the employees — burned tires outside, according to Hebrew reports.
“If the decision is eventually made by [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu and by the finance minister [to close the factory] we will cross red lines. If they try to save NIS 20 million, the blowing up of the Teva factory will cost around $220 million,” he said.
Teva intends to lay off some 1,750 workers across the country and shut down two plants in the capital. Leaders of the company’s various worker unions were scheduled to meet with Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, Economy Minister Eli Cohen and chairman of the Histadrut labor federation Avi Nissenkorn for talks about the layoffs.
As part of ongoing protests, workers on Monday were on strike at the company headquarters in Petah Tikvah, the Teva Medical factory in Ashdod, and the Teva Planetex factory in Netanya. At Teva Kfar Saba, 250 workers were to hold a half day strike between 12 and 4 p.m.
During the morning protesters blocked the northern entrance to the port city of Ashdod.
“We will demand from the finance minister one thing — that he lets Teva in Jerusalem keep working forever. That is our request, and the message that will be given to the prime minister is: our factory will remain,” Ben Simon said. “We are a profitable company with good results over the years and therefore I think, am sure and believe that the factory will remain.”
In Jerusalem the barricaded workers planned to stay put.
Nissenkorn urged the government to find a solution to the crisis, according to a report from Channel 10.
“The campaign for blue and white and saving local industry must begin with protection of workplaces,” Nissenkorn said, referring to the colors of Israel’s national flag. “The government and the Teva administration have the responsibility to bring an end to this crisis. Firings are a last resort, and all the relevant bodies must join together in order to minimize the impact on workers and to ensure that Teva, with all its factories, remains in Israel.”
Rallies against the layoffs were held in Jerusalem, the coastal cities of Ashdod and Netanya, and the central Israel city of Petah Tikva on Sunday.
Demonstrators briefly blocked the entrance to the capital before police removed them from the highway.
In Ashdod, the employees torched tires outside the local Teva offices. Demonstrators also disrupted traffic in Petah Tikva.
A massive solidarity strike with the Teva workers paralyzed the country’s public sector from 8 a.m. until noon.
The strike — the biggest to hit the country in several years — shut down banks, the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange, post offices, government offices, the Knesset, ports, airports, insurance companies, the courts, post offices, phone companies, Israel Electric Corporation, health services, universities, local municipalities and regional councils, along with Teva facilities across the country.
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 Israel, 1,750 employees, roughly one-quarter of its local workforce, were poised to lose their jobs.
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.
AFP contributed to this report.