Some 3,000 construction workers staged a strike in southern Switzerland on Monday to protest changes in the industry, including disputes around the retirement age of 60. Further action is planned in Geneva on Tuesday.
The strikes in canton Ticino were jointly called by the Unia, Syna, and OCST trade unions, who claimed that business leaders were “blackmailing” workers with worsening conditions as a quid pro quo for maintaining the current industry retirement age of 60.
Negotiations on the current national working contract for the construction sector have been ongoing this year, with the 60-year-old retirement age a key pillar of workers’ demands; one which also led to an 18,000-strong demonstration in Zurich in June.
And though a solution was found in the summer to maintain the retirement age, the unions noted on Monday, businesses are now pushing back by trying to “degrade” the national working contract through other changes.
Strikers are particularly worried about the import of cheaper foreign labour undercutting salaries, and the prospect of longer working hours.
“Builders are prepared to fight to defend their rights,” said Paolo Locatelli of the OCST union. “Businesses should drop their inhumane demands and finally negotiate a solution.”
Strikes are generally a rare occurrence in Switzerland, which does not have a history of mass social action.
However, according to the unions, Monday’s demonstrations were just the beginning: “the Autumn is set to be heated,” they announced in a joint press release.
Indeed, the Ticino strike is set to be followed by similar action in canton Geneva tomorrow, where some 12,000 people are employed in the construction industry. A local business group representing builders slammed the planned strikes as “union posturing”.