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Bilateral agreements Free movement did not affect Swiss salaries

Almost two thirds of employees on Swiss building sites are foreigners


The introduction of the free movement of people accord introduced as part of a series of bilateral treaties between Switzerland and the European Union in 2002 has generally had little effect on Swiss salaries, a study has shown.

Researchers from the University of Geneva, who were commissioned by the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO) to assess the agreement’s impact, concluded that the effects of immigration were in general “minor” and may only have lowered salaries of employees with a higher education.

The accord on the free movement of people between Switzerland and the EU has been in force for about ten years, allowing Swiss companies to recruit citizens from the EU as well as Liechtenstein, Norway and Iceland. They may migrate to Switzerland for an unlimited time if they have a work contract, and they may also stay in the country for 90 days without a job.

Before the agreement was implemented, there was concern that immigration would impact salaries and working conditions in Switzerland negatively.

The study is not the first to debunk these claims. “The study complements previous analyses on the subject,” SECO said in a statement. “The majority of studies have found only minor effects on salaries.”

Employees with higher vocational training or a university degree and a medium-length work experience of between six to 25 years would have earned 1.6 per cent more if the percentage of foreigners in the workforce had remained the same since 2004, the researchers found.

People without a degree or vocational training were likely to benefit from the free movement. At the same time unskilled or highly skilled foreigners working in Switzerland ended up with slightly lower salaries because of the agreements, while those with a secondary school qualification generally benefitted.

The agreement came into force in stages from 2002. Since the beginning, the free movement has led to an upsurge in the number of people moving to Switzerland.

In April 2012, the government reintroduced quotas for immigrants from Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovenia, Slovakia as well as the three Baltic republics of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia.

The implementation of this so-called “safeguard clause” may be invoked if immigration increases from the EU too fast. The measures can be extended until 2014 at the latest. and agencies

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