Pharma giant Teva resists Israel PM on closure plan


Jerusalem (AFP)

Teva, the world's largest generic drug company, refused Tuesday to reconsider a decision to close its Jerusalem plant despite pressure from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the government and group said.

Teva will make 1,750 employees redundant in Israel as part of plans to slash 14,000 jobs worldwide over two years, according to the Histadrut trade union.

The cuts would amount to more than a quarter of the Israeli drugmaker's global workforce of more than 55,000, of whom fewer than 7,000 work in Israel.

At Sunday's weekly cabinet meeting, Netanyahu had said he would meet Teva's Danish boss Kare Schultz.

A statement from his office said the premier aimed to "reduce the damage to workers, do everything possible to avoid the closure of the factory in Jerusalem, and ensure Teva remained an Israeli firm".

At a meeting on Tuesday with Schultz, the government asked that the Jerusalem plant be kept open, "but the Teva chief refused", a statement from Netanyahu's office said.

"He agreed to work with the government to find solutions for those employees who will be laid off," it added.

In its own statement, the company quoted Schultz as saying that "Teva cannot accede to the prime minister's request".

"In order for Teva to remain an Israeli company and continue to make a significant contribution to the Israeli economy, we must first save the company," it said.

Thousands of Teva employees demonstrated outside the prime minister's office during Tuesday's meeting.

Teva has been saddled with debt after its $40 billion acquisition of the generics arm of rival Allergan 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.

Schultz pledged to keep the company's headquarters in Israel, and thanked Netanyahu for "the support Teva has received from the Israeli government", its statement said.

According to Histadrut, Teva has received $6.2 billion in tax reductions since 2006.

The union said in a statement it would "continue to fight to limit the number of layoffs".

Avi Gabbay, leader of the opposition Labour party, attacked the prime minister over the Teva closure.

"Kare Schultz has learned that Netanyahu only turns up for the photograph... he can keep on firing Teva employees," he said.