Machine industry celebrates a milestone

The machine industry is Switzerland's largest employer Keystone

The Swiss mechanical and electrical engineering industries say they are pinning their hopes for the future on increased productivity and competitiveness.

This content was published on June 24, 2005

Despite a downturn in its fortunes, the sector has been celebrating 100 years of the engineering employers’ association in Switzerland at a ceremony in Zurich.

Swissmem, which is the industries’ umbrella organisation, warned on Friday that companies were losing two to three per cent of their workforce every year. This is down to a number of factors including consolidation in the sector.

But Swissmem president Johann Schneider-Ammann said that the engineering sector remained one of the pillars of the Swiss economy.

The industries are by far the largest export sector and the largest industrial employer in Switzerland.

No decline

Schneider-Ammann said that structural changes did not automatically mean decline and he advised businesses to adapt and innovate.

He added that investors had to be prepared to take risks but employers needed to think of their workers when making decisions.

Schneider-Ammann also praised the advantages of social partnership. The Association of Swiss Engineering Employers, founded in 1905, was at the heart of the "peace accord" signed in 1937.

This forms the foundation of the current collective labour accord within the industries, which provides for consensus bargaining between unions and employers.

Industrial action is rare because both sides must undergo compulsory arbitration or risk substantial fines.

"Peace accord"

Economics Minister Joseph Deiss, who attended the celebrations, told the 500-strong audience of business leaders and politicians that the "peace accord" had opened the way for social partnership agreements in other branches.

He said that this gave Switzerland a big advantage over other countries. But he admitted that workers’ fears of seeing their jobs moving to countries like China or to eastern Europe was "very real".

Deiss also defended the decision to open the Swiss labour market to the new members of the European Union, an issue that comes before Swiss voters in September.

"It is important for the future of Swiss industry," he said.

Schneider-Ammann, who is a Radical Party parliamentarian, supported Deiss.

"Enterprises in the machine industry need to gain access to these important export markets," he commented.

swissinfo with agencies

Key facts

Industries in Swissmem employed 300,392 people in Switzerland at the end of 2004.
The engineering industries generated 42 per cent of Swiss exports in 2004, totalling SFr59 billion ($46.24 billion).
65.1% of these exports went to the 25 members of the European Union and to countries of the European Free Trade Association.

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