Some 18,000 construction workers heeded union calls to demonstrate on Saturday in Zurich, in a coordinated action against proposals to scrap the current retirement age of 60 for the industry.
The gathering, called for by Switzerland's biggest trade union Uniaexternal link, along with the Syna unionexternal link, came in response to the impending expiry of the current national working contract for the building sector, which sets (among other things) the retirement age for construction workers at 60.
On Friday, at a joint press conference, Unia and Syna called for the maintaining of early retirement, more worker protection, and less temporary work on sites in the new working contract.
They would be prepared to call for strikes if their demands were not met, they said.
Pressure is mounting on the pension funds that finance this early retirement gap between 60 and 65 years old, a pressure that will be exacerbated by the impending retirement of the baby boomer generation.
Retirement age, funds
In May, the Swiss Builders’ Associationexternal link, representing employers, announcedexternal link that there were not enough funds to finance early retirement and that workers would either have to work until age 62 or accept a 30% drop in pension.
But the unions do not accept this and have suggested that bosses and workers instead contribute more to the pension pot.
“Builders are also prepared to participate in the costs, they’ve clearly said that,” said the head of the construction sector at Unia, Nico Lutz, on Friday. “In the past they have already given up on pay rises to better finance retirement at 60.”
Early retirement in construction was a success model and allowed workers to retire in dignity, Lutz added.external link
It was important to get both sides around the negotiating table, he continued. But if there was a stalemate, he was clear. “In autumn we will start with protests and warning strikes,” he said on Swiss public television RTSexternal link.
There is a mood for strikes, according to polls of workers on buildings sites, the unions said. They are also hoping for around 10,000 people at the demonstration in Zurich, according to RTS.
Strikes nevertheless remain relatively rare in Switzerland.