Swiss unions call for ‘social agenda’ in EU relations

Union federation chief Pierre-Yves Maillard and vice-president Vania Alleva, on Thursday. Keystone / Marcel Bieri

Switzerland’s largest trade union group has repeated its warning that any framework deal reached with the European Union must respect measures to protect wages from cross-border competition.

Keystone-SDA/Reuters/dos

At the annual conference of the Swiss Trade Union Federation on Thursday, the objective of keeping wage measures in place was hammered home by group president Pierre-Yves Maillard.

“We will engage in this substantive debate by asserting that we want to maintain bilateral agreements [with the EU] but in a context of wages, and defence of our ability to decide on our measures to protect wages independently,” Maillard said in Bern.

Stressing the main message of the conference – that neo-liberal policies in the past decades have led to greater inequality and more outsourcing – Maillard said that any new EU deal put before the Swiss people needed a “marked social agenda”.

Framework deal

Switzerland employs various measures to protect the country’s high wages from cheaper temporary labour contracted from surrounding European Union countries.

But it is also in ongoing – if stalled – negotiations with Brussels to reach a framework deal that could re-shape relations, currently governed by a patchwork of some 120 bilateral deals.

Unions are worried that Brussels has made it clear on several occasions that Switzerland needs to tone down the defensive wage measures to reach a framework deal.

Their hard line, which they have made known before, complicates the Swiss government’s efforts to come to a clear position in the face of widespread domestic scepticism towards the EU pact.

A national vote in May on whether to scrap the freedom of movement agreement with the EU is the next challenge for Bern-Brussels relations. Here, the unions are united with the government in opposing the plan of the rightwing Swiss People’s Party.

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