On Strike!

Published on: 
Pharmaceutical Technology, Pharmaceutical Technology, May 2023, Volume 47, Issue 5

Strike action is impacting numerous sectors across Europe, including the bio/pharma industry.

At the time of writing, countries throughout Europe are being brought to their knees through strike action being taken by employees from various sectors who are unhappy about low pay and poor working conditions. Teachers, nurses, doctors, train drivers, pilots, airport staff, and civil servants, to name a few, are holding mass walkouts from their jobs, ensuring that their demands are heard by the relevant authorities.

Over the years, the bio/pharma industry has not been subjected to much industrial action from its workers, particularly not when compared with professions based in the public sector. In fact, when looking back, the most notable disruption to the industry occurred in 2010 when there was a spate of disputes affecting three major pharma companies—AstraZeneca, Sanofi, and Merck—where employees fought back against job cuts and unfavourable benefits (1).

However, this year is proving to be bucking the trend. At the beginning of May 2023, GSK employees staged a series of walkouts that, at the time of writing, were expected to last throughout the month and impact a number of the company’s plants in the United Kingdom. Strike action started at Montrose on 2 May and spread to GSK’s plant in Irvine on 4 May, with the Ware, Barnard Castle, Worthing, and Ulverston facilities following suit at later dates in the month (2).

Indeed, it was only a year ago, in May 2022, that GSK managed to narrowly avoid strike action due to a dispute over pay, when negotiations with the workers’ union, Unite, ended in an improved offer that was accepted (3). This new action by GSK workers in 2023 demonstrates the current financial strain many people are facing in the UK and Europe as a result of the rate of inflation and general cost of living increases. To that point, according to the UK’s Office for National Statistics, when taking inflation into consideration, the real value of regular wages has actually fallen by 2.5% between October and December 2022 alone (4).


Inflation in Europe—although declining slightly from the peak level—is set to remain high for now, and economic growth is spluttering along at a painfully slow pace (5), meaning that the cost of living will not improve for working people in the region for some time. Only time will tell whether the bio/pharma industry will succumb to further industrial action by its workforce or not.


1. Reuters. European Staff Fight Back as Drugmakers Hack Costs. News Release, 17 Aug. 2010.
2. Unite. GSK Strike Wave Across the UK Begins in Montrose. News Release, 1 May 2023.
3. Unite. Strike Off as Unite Secures Pay Lift for GSK Workers. News Release, 23 May 2022.
4. King, S.; Crees, M.; Ball, C.; Gabriadze, M. The Impact of Strikes in the UK: June 2022 to February 2023. ONS.gov.uk, Article, 8 March 2023.
5. Kammer, A. Europe’s Knife-Edge Path Toward Beating Inflation Without a Recession. IMF Blog, 28 April 2023.

About the author

Felicity Thomas is the European/senior editor for Pharmaceutical Technology Group.

Article details

Pharmaceutical Technology Europe
Vol. 35, No. 5
May 2023
Page: 6


When referring to this article, please cite it as Thomas, F. On Strike! Pharmaceutical Technology Europe 2023 35 (5) 6.