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Employment Decathlon recruitment mix-up exposes cross-border job tensions

Decathlon store in Namur, Belgium

Decathlon has some 1,350 stores in 44 countries, like this store in Namur, Belgium. It plans to expand its physical presence in Switzerland in the next few years

(© Decathlon)

The French sports retailer Decathlon plans to open numerous stores in Switzerland. Good news, perhaps. So why did a related job announcement by a cross-border workers’ group in France spark controversy in Geneva? 

According to a report in Monday’s Le Temps newspaperexternal link, the European cross-border workers’ group (GTE) published news on its website that Decathlon was hiring for its future Swiss stores. GTE reportedly invited interested candidates to “get in touch with our specialists on Swiss employment” for interviews in France or by Skype. 

Decathlon plans to expand massively in Switzerland. After opening stores in Marin in canton Neuchâtel, Meyrin in canton Geneva and Conthey in canton Valais (in 2019), it wants to open over 30 large stores and 100 small outlets over the next ten years. 

Several hours after its Decathlon news story was circulated, Le Temps said GTE’s recruitment information was amended following an intervention by an unhappy Mauro Poggia, Geneva’s employment, social affairs and health minister. 

“This really is pirate-like behaviour and typical of what the Geneva people no longer tolerate,” Poggia told the paper. 

An estimated one in four jobs in Geneva (84,200 in December 2017external link) is held by someone living in France and the annual figure continues to rise slowly. Cross-border workers from France keep Geneva’s economy afloat, but they are regularly the target of criticism for taking local jobs and are the focus of campaigns by Poggia’s populist Geneva Citizens’ Movement (MCG) and the rightwing Swiss People’s Party. 

+ Read more about Switzerland's local hiring preference system

At national level, Switzerland is phasing in a system of local hiring preferences from July to curb immigration from the European Union. The new system requires employers to post job openings to Swiss employment offices in sectors where the jobless rate hits 8% or more. Geneva, meanwhile, already has a cantonal preference system in place for jobs in 250 public administrations and state-funded bodies such as hospitals.

Mea culpa

Decathlon spokesman Jeremy Nieckowski admitted to Le Temps that it had asked GTE to rectify the hiring information, as “we didn’t give them a mandate for a recruitment campaign”.

GTE spokesman Laurence Coudière acknowledged the error. 

“Decathlon didn’t commission us for any recruitment,” he said. “With Decathlon setting up in Switzerland, we wanted to promote our employment service which helps members in the search for jobs in Switzerland but is not a recruitment agency.” 

Poggia remains unconvinced. “Either Decathlon really gave GTE the mandate [to recruit] and realised it went too far, or GTE accorded itself the right for hiring in Switzerland. In both cases, it’s problematic,” he declared.

Le Temps/sb

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