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Government faces questions over union demands

Labour relations have worsened for example at a Swissmetal in Reconvilier Keystone

The International Labour Organization (ILO) has called on the Swiss government to stop what trade unions consider the erosion of collective labour contracts in the country.

The Geneva-based body backed demands by the Swiss Trade Union Federation which has repeatedly complained about anti-union discrimination.

A commission of ILO experts agreed on Friday to demand explanations from the Swiss authorities about the legal protection at work for employees involved in union activities.

The experts seek more information from the government on the exclusion of unions by some employers in negotiations on the popular practice of collective bargaining.

The ILO also criticised the government for failing to respond to union appeals handed in two years ago. It called on the Swiss authorities to pursue a real dialogue with unions and employers.

In 2004 the cabinet had come out against complaints by the trade unions about what they considered illegal sackings of trade union activists. At the time employers had called for the state to keep out of labour disputes.

A first step

The Swiss Trade Union Federation welcomed Friday’s decision by ILO experts who can only make recommendations to the governing body of the ILO, but have no power to impose sanctions.

“We are pleased with the outcome. Our complaint has been upheld. It’s a good start,” said federation official Jean-Claude Prince.

He said it made no sense for the Swiss government to call on other countries to respect international regulations on labour conditions, but to turn a blind eye to violations of the rules in Switzerland.

He had told the ILO that the number of collective work contracts had been decreasing rapidly in Switzerland since 1990 and reached just 36.7 per cent in 2003. He also told the experts that the situation varied considerably from one region to another.

A senior official at the economics ministry, Jean-Jacques Elmiger, said the government would provide a report by November.

swissinfo with agencies

There are two umbrella organisations of unions:
The Trade Union Federation represents 16 different unions with about 380,000 members.
Travail Suisse has about 160,000 members and brings together 13 independent and Christian unions.
Several labour representations belong to neither of the two umbrella groups.

There are about 700 collective work contracts negotiated in Switzerland.

Collective work contracts are agreements between one or several employers’ organisations and one or several unions or other labour representations.

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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