Union says workers at Israeli drugs firm Teva to strike on Tuesday

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - A union ordered a strike by workers at Israeli drugsmaker Teva Pharmaceutical Industries TEVA.TA on Tuesday after two days of protests by employees over planned job cuts by the indebted firm.

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Hundreds of Teva TEVA.N employees, many wearing white lab coats, blocked the road and entrance to the Finance Ministry in Jerusalem, where union leaders met ministry officials and Teva representatives.

After that meeting, Avi Nissenkorn, head of Histadrut, an umbrella organization representing public sector unions and also workers at some private firms such as Teva, ordered a suspension of activity at all Teva sites in Israel on Tuesday.

He also said workers would protest in front of the prime minister’s office on Tuesday.

Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon said the government supported Teva workers and would do all it could to reduce the number of job losses and factory shutdowns. He did not give details.

Teva, one of Israel’s biggest employers, declined to comment.

The world’s largest generics drugmaker said last week it aimed to reduce its debts by cutting its global workforce by more than a quarter, or 14,000 jobs, including 1,700 in Israel where it will also close a manufacturing site.

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The plans have angered unions and politicians, who believe employees should not pay for Teva’s failed investments abroad.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday he would meet Teva CEO Kare Schultz this week to minimize the impact on staff, after thousands of public sector workers staged a half-day strike on Sunday to show solidarity with Teva workers.

The strike forced the closure of Ben-Gurion airport, banks, the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange and government ministries, while protesters also blocked roads and burned tires.

Union leader Nissenkorn said “job cuts were a last resort” and called on the government to minimize harm to workers and ensure Teva’s plants remained in Israel.

Workers at Teva Medical blocked an entrance to the port city of Ashdod and the company’s headquarters, and two other plants were shutdown. Hundreds of workers protested inside a plant in Jerusalem, preventing it from operating.

Histadrut said 250 staff the Kfar Saba plan, north of Tel Aviv, had said they would stop work for several hours on Monday, and that protests would be staged at other sites.

Teva has been weighed down by $35 billion in debt it took on to acquire Allergan’s AGN.N Actavis generic drug business for $40.5 billion last year, a move that coincided with tumbling U.S. prices for generic drugs and the start of competition to Teva's blockbuster multiple sclerosis drug Copaxone.

Under a two-year plan, Teva aims to reduce costs by $3 billion by the end of 2019, from about $16.1 billion in 2017.

Reporting by Steven Scheer; Editing by Susan Fenton and Edmund Blair