Belfast Telegraph

Drugs firm strike could have big impact on chemists in Northern Ireland, says union

By John Mulgrew

A strike involving up to 200 workers at a Northern Ireland pharmaceutical firm could have a "major impact" on the delivery of medical drugs here, the union behind the planned action has claimed.

Workers at United Drug Sangers NI are set to strike next week in a 24-hour walkout over pay, following a ballot on action by trade union Unite.

It said almost 80% of warehouse workers and 98% of drivers balloted voted for strike action, and turnout in both exceeded 70%.

The company employs around 285 people, of which some 180 are represented by Unite.

And the union has warned the proposed 24-hour stoppage on July 15 is likely to result in disruption of medical supplies to pharmacies and medical centres.

The Northern Ireland company is a large distributor of pharmaceutical products to mainly independently-owned high street chemists.

And in addition to the range of specialist supplies, the company has a comprehensive and frequent daily schedule to maintain and supply products, that may be needed by chemist outlets at short notice.

It operates from two depots in Belfast.

Sean Smyth of Unite said crucial controlled drugs are delivered on a daily basis, therefore strike action could lead to disruption of medical supplies.

He said workers had been forced to strike due to "management intransigence" following a seven-month pay freeze and collapsed negotiations.

"Our members have made a huge contribution to the success of this company. Sangers posted almost £12m profits last year, an increase of 73% on the previous year."

"If a company is in dire straits, you would understand, but the company is going extremely well. The workers have done their bit.

"The last thing we want as a trade union is taking workers out of work. I apologise about this, but you can't treat workers like that."

Sangers is owned by Alchem plc, which is in turn owned by a larger parent company.

Sean Smyth said: "Management have refused our requests to take the case to the Labour Relations Agency in an attempt to avoid the industrial action.

"We are warning the public that management stonewalling is likely to result in significant disruption to the distribution of medical supplies as a result of strike action, but even at this late stage it is not too late to avoid this adverse impact on the public."

In response, a spokesman for United Drug Supply Chain Services said: "Sangers have paid considerable cumulative pay increases in the last five years and have proposed a pay freeze in the current year given the fall in operating profit.

"Management will continue to engage with staff and Unite to explain the rationale for a pay freeze and seek to reach a resolution."

And it said that "due to the challenging nature of the Northern Ireland pharmacy market and the loss of two major agencies, the operating profit figure in Sangers declined last year and is forecast to decline further in the current year".

It said the £12m profit figure quoted related to "one-off proceeds associated with the sale" of a stake in another business.

"The profit number quoted is taken from our group's annual accounts and includes one-off proceeds associated with the sale of our 50% share in UniDrug, a joint venture with Alliance Boots."

Belfast Telegraph

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