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ILO calls for unionist protection rejected

Strikes are rare in Switzerland, where union activity is not as militant as elsewhere

(Keystone)

Recommendations by the International Labour Organization (ILO) to improve legal protection of shop stewards in Switzerland have prompted mixed reactions.

The main employers' group said there was no need to amend the law to allow the reinstatement of activists sacked because of their union activities.

The Swiss Employers' Association reckons that current legislation is sufficient to protect militant trade union members, adding that the proposed measures are exaggerated and would prevent companies from deciding who they hire.

"It would also allow some trade unionists to abuse the system," the association's statement said.

The employers group slammed the Geneva-based ILO for not taking into account the arguments provided by the Swiss government in an investigation.

The organisation' experts called on the government to respond to fresh allegations by the Swiss Federation of Trade Unions. The umbrella group said Swiss law was in breach of international agreements about trade union activities and collective bargaining.

Under current regulations courts grant activists a maximum of six monthly salaries as compensation, just like any other employee.

"In other ILO member countries militant activists have a right to demand reinstatement in their jobs," a trade union federation spokesman told swissinfo.

Similar criticism against the Swiss authorities was raised last June referring to cases that date back several years.

On the increase

The number of abusive sackings of union activists in Switzerland has been on the rise and is estimated at around 20 people a year, according to the federation, which comprises 16 different unions. It pointed out recent cases at a Swissmetal plant in the northwestern town of Reconvilier.

In response to the latest statements, the Swiss economics ministry said it was willing to consider the recommendations by the ILO in discussions with trade unions and employers' organisations as well as with the federal administration.

In 2004 the cabinet had dismissed complaints by the trade unions about what they consider illegal sackings of union activists. At the time employers had argued that the state should keep out of labour disputes.

swissinfo

Swiss Trade Union Federation

Founded in 1880, the Swiss Trade Union Federation is the largest union umbrella organisation. It includes 16 unions representing about 380,000 ...

In brief

The strike at the Swissmetal factory in Reconvilier in 2004 and in January/February 2006 was one of the most serious labour disputes in Switzerland in recent times.

The strikers demanded a halt to controversial restructuring plans, which included layoffs, and the reinstatement of several shop stewards and other trade union activists.

The Federation of Trade Union's represents 16 different unions with about 380,000 members.

Under Swiss law it is up to employers and labour representations to agree on regulations, rights and duties in bilateral relations.

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