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Construction unions reach compromise deal with employers

A long-standing pay dispute in the Swiss construction industry appears to be over. The economics minister, Pascal Couchepin (pictured centre), said employers and unions had agreed on a compromise, averting possible strike action.

This content was published on March 16, 2000 - 18:05

A long-standing pay dispute in the Swiss construction industry appears to be over. The economics minister, Pascal Couchepin (pictured centre), said employers and unions had agreed on a compromise, averting possible strike action.

The employers agreed to a pay increase of SFr100 a month starting on 1 July, while the unions accepted the introduction of more flexible working hours.

Both sides also accepted an extension to the statute of employment, which prohibits the right to strike. This was to have lapsed in two weeks' time.

As to cold weather payments, the government has agreed to safeguard them and eventually make sure they apply not just to the winter period.

The economics minister, who mediated the talks between the Builders Association and the construction unions, said the two sides had reached a compromise on pay and working hours, as well as extending the statute of employment by two years.

"It was quite important for us to offer help," Couchepin said. "But it is unusual for the Swiss government to get involved in such a dispute. The last time this happened was in 1947. I hope in the next 50 years it won't be necessary for us to intervene."

The director of employment at the economics ministry, who helped broker the deal, Jean-Luc Nordmann (pictured right), added that, "The social peace in Switzerland has been preserved because their are concessions on both sides".

The unions had warned that failure to resolve the conflict would have a negative impact on a vote on bilateral treaties with the European Union.

The agreement, which still needs to be ratified by both sides, has averted the risk of industrial action. The unions had threatened to go out on strike, if their pay demands were not met. In January, the Builders Association rejected a previous compromise reached in negotiations last year.

Though government representatives are confident that the package will be accepted by both sides, the president of the Swiss construction workers union, Vasco Pedrina, is not so sure.

"It won't be easy to get the approval for this deal at the union conference on 25 March," he said. "It's going to be a close call when members take a vote. I expect plenty of resistance from small companies based in canton Ticino and French-speaking Switzerland."

swissinfo and agencies

Photograph (from left) shows Heinz Pletscher, president of the Swiss builders association, Pascal Couchepin, economics minister, and Jean-Luc Nordmann, senior official at the economics ministry.

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