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Concrete arguments Thousands of builders protest wages and weather

The march was organised by the unions negotiating on the construction workers' behalf

(Keystone/Valeriano Di Domenico)

Construction workers in their thousands from all over Switzerland demonstrated on the streets of Zurich on Saturday, calling for better working conditions and more wage protection measures.

As in many jobs in Switzerland, a general working contract for the industry governs many of these issues. For the 80,000 construction workers who have their working conditions and terms set out in the general contract, theirs will run out at the end of the year and there is concern about what next year’s contract will hold.

Some 15,000 builders and others who hold jobs in the industry came to the city on additional trains that were put on for the day. The march, which travelled through the centre of Zurich, was organised by the trade unions Unia and Syna. They say the Swiss Builders’ Association has refused to renegotiate the terms of the new contract and wants to continue with the present one.

Construction is a business that has been particularly hard hit by the employment of foreign workers or, in parts of the country, cross-border workers who are paid lower wages by employers, undercutting Swiss staff whose salaries are determined by the general contract.

The unions also argue that construction workers often have to work in rain or snow, conditions which can often be dangerous for their health or their safety. The age at which the workers can retire was another point of contention.

The Swiss Builders’ Association said the protest was puzzling for them, arguing that the contract they were offering was still on the table, and should be signed if construction workers wanted to be protected by its terms again next year.

swissinfo.ch and agencies

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