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In a far-reaching move that has caught organised labour on the back foot, a government agency has declared the production and distribution of a wide array of pharmaceutical products to be an essential service and prohibited workers in the sector from going on strike.

The government deems services to be essential if an interruption would pose a threat to the health, life or safety of all or part of the population. It has already barred several categories of workers, including the police, defence force and healthcare personnel, from withholding their labour...

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