Report of the correspondent of Mazdoor Ekta Committee
The 19th State Conference of West Bengal Medical and Sales Representatives Union (WBMSRU) was recently held at Siliguri from 8th to 10th September 2023. WBMSRU is the largest union of medical sales representatives (MRs) in West Bengal and has around 22,000 members. The Conference discussed the deteriorating working conditions of workers in this sector.
There are around five lakh medical representatives across the country and they are organised in different unions across various states. These unions have come together under their Federation, FMRAI at the national level.
Pharmaceutical (pharma) companies promote their medicines through the Medical Representatives. These Medical Representatives are given sample packages of the medicines that a company wants to promote. MRs then go to various clinics and hospitals and give free samples of these medicines. Doctors are also given incentives for prescribing these particular branded medicines and not generic medicines or brands of other pharma companies. In most cases, the salary is performance-based and minimum wage law does not apply to MRs. In local pharma companies, MRs earn around Rs 8,000-10,000 per month, while in some multinational pharma companies, the salary can be higher.
The reason for the deteriorating conditions of work have to do with both repeal of the law regulating the work of MRs and adoption of internet based technology by the pharma companies. Among the 29 labour laws repealed when the four labour codes were passed by the parliament in 2021, was the Sales Promotion Act of 1976. Pharma companies have used the repeal of this law to increase workload and working hours of MRs. They are even forcing MRs to conduct activities which do not come under purview of sales promotion activity. An example of such activity is to administer camps for taking blood samples and other tests for which MRs have no training.
Big Pharma companies are also shifting their promotions to digital platforms eliminating the need for medical representatives. Many multinational pharma companies are transferring MRs to remote places, their salaries get stopped and in some cases employees have also been terminated.
Pharma companies are using modern technology to carry out surveillance and digitally track movement of MRs. Meeting sales targets are being made a precondition for getting their full salary.
The Medical Representatives are determined to fight against deteriorating working conditions and to defend their rights. Prior to the conference of WBMSRU, on 26th August, the Federation of Medical Representatives Association of India (FMRAI) held a special meeting to hold a discussion on the topic, “Challenges to Changing Employment Relations”. In this meeting a paper was circulated to help all MR unions to develop common understandings of the situation and to develop proper mechanisms to combat the imposition of new work and workload by the employers. Subsequently, meetings of state units and subunits have taken place in Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Tamin Nadu, Delhi, Himachal Pradesh, Haryana, Punjab, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Goa, North-Eastern states, Odisha and Bihar.