Former Teva Chairman Criticizes Handling of Layoffs

YERUSHALAYIM -

A former Teva Pharmaceutical Industries chairman has taken a swipe at the executives running the company for their handling of the planned layoffs that have provoked a furor in Israel.

“The streamlining could have been carried out in a far wiser and more dignified way,” former chairman Prof. Meir Heth told Globes in an interview.

Heth was critical not of the decision to fire workers — possibly several hundred in Israel alone — but of the way it was presented to the public.

“This was a public relations failure. It’s a shame that the announcement of the layoffs was not accompanied by an announcement of a 10-percent pay cut for directors and executives. Had they been smart, they would have done that, and believe me, they could be reduced,” he said.

He added that Teva has had rounds of firings before without attracting such unfavorable attention, including pressure to back down from the Finance Ministry and the Histadrut.

“Teva has fired many employees, especially overseas. There was never a strike; there was mutual respect. Teva established itself as a good place to work for employees and managers, and it gave many benefits.”

When asked about labor discontent at the Teva-Tech facility in Beit She’an where workers are currently striking, Heth was dismissive.

“This is not a pure strike. The man behind it is the secretary of the workers’ committee. He wants Teva to be managed by the committee. It’s easy to do this now that Teva’s image is poor.

“In the past, when there were threats of a strike, management announced that unless there were negotiations, it would close the plant, and it’s hard to close such a plant in which huge amounts were invested. If management surrenders now, it will lose its deterrence.”

Regarding public anger over the huge tax breaks enjoyed by Teva and other companies, Heth said it “was a conscious choice [by the Israeli government] and is not theft.”

But Teva director Chaim Hurvitz could have done a better job of explaining the company’s position.

“And he did not speak wisely. To say that Teva has to make cutbacks in order to pay taxes is not a smart thing to say.”

Heth, 81, is a small shareholder and part of Teva’s founding core, which owns 10 percent of the company.

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