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.
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”.
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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