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Inside the labour market

Switzerland is a pretty stable country as far as employment is concerned. Even crises on the world economic stage tend not to cause catastrophic effects.

But it is a busy job. Swiss full-time workers log on average 41.7 hours a week on the clock.

For all of that work, full-time employees are entitled to paid leave of at least 20 working days per year. This is less than in many other European countries. Public holidays vary from canton to canton, but there are generally eight or nine.

survey of 72 cities round the world carried out by the Swiss bank UBS in 2012 showed both Zurich and Geneva still offered the highest net salaries as well as the highest purchasing power compared with other cities across the world.

There are large regional differences between salary levels, as shown by the Federal Statistical Office. Disparities can be explained by the nature of the economic activity conducted in the different areas. The pharmaceutical trade accounts for higher wages in the Basel region, and Zurich and Geneva still enjoy relatively high wages per capita as well as strong purchasing power.

Unemployment rates vary according to region: the French- and Italian-speaking areas tend to have higher rates than the German-speaking ones. Women tend to be more affected than men and foreigners more affected than Swiss.

Foreign workers

Nearly one in three wage earners in Switzerland is foreign. The Swiss economy could not function without foreign workers of all sorts.

The agreement between Switzerland and the European Union on the free movement of people has brought an influx of workers from EU countries. However, Swiss voters approved an initiative in February 2014 to re-introduce quotas on workers from the European Union, and the government’s implementation of its terms could affect the free movement agreement. More information can be found here.

In addition, on June 23 the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union. It will remain an EU member for at least two years while negotiations are carried out. After that, it is not clear how Brexit will affect British citizens wanting to live and work in Switzerland.

The greatest number of EU workers come from Italy, where the majority of workers come to Switzerland for short stays. Contradictorily, those who emigrate permanently from Italy are also the group most likely to stay in Switzerland for 30 years or more.

Germans make up another very large group, as Switzerland has become the country of choice for German immigrants. Most are highly qualified managers, teachers and medicine workers.

Working illegally

It is illegal to work in Switzerland without a permit and doing so is punishable by law. Legally you cannot begin work, even at a job for which you have been granted a permit, before you have registered with local authorities. Do not start a job before you have completed these steps. (See section on Work Permits).

Working illegally subjects you to a fine or worse. Your employer can also be punished. There are no legal grounds for an employer to pay you for work that has been done illegally.

Cross-border commuters

Cross-border commuters are a special category of EU workers. Originally they had to live and work in specific border areas, but those restrictions no longer apply.

Over half of these commuting workers live in France; smaller numbers come from Italy and Germany. They work in northwestern Switzerland, around Lake Geneva and in Ticino.

For more on Switzerland’s foreign workforce, see the site of the Swiss Forum for Migration and Population Studies.

General considerations

Layoffs in Switzerland are generally a very last resort. Employers in business and industry are quite reluctant to let people go; they tend to tough it out with “reduced working hours” until times get better.

There is independent freelance work of various kinds, and if, after a while working in Switzerland, foreign workers decide to go out on their own, they will need to get themselves certified as a bona-fide freelancer by the cantonal government. Potential customers may well ask freelancers to document this before they hire. Otherwise they might find themselves stuck with the freelancer as a de-facto employee, because the labour laws in this regard are quite strict.

For information on jobs and unemployment, see the federal government’s portal for jobseekers (in German, Italian and French).



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