Parliament agrees to extend EU labour accord

Both houses of parliament want to open the doors to eastern European workers swissinfo C Helmle

The House of Representatives has approved government plans to open up the labour market to citizens of the ten new EU member states.

This content was published on December 13, 2004

It also voted in favour of measures to help stop wage dumping – one of the main fears of the trade unions, who are opposed to the move.

The House voted overwhelmingly in favour of the proposal on Monday. The vote follows the Senate’s approval of the plan earlier this month and comes despite opposition from the rightwing Swiss People’s Party in both houses.

Earlier this year the second phase of a bilateral accord with Brussels came into effect, removing the priority previously given to Swiss workers on the domestic labour market.

This latest proposal – an additional protocol to the accord – would see the gradual extension of the agreement to the ten new EU states. These mainly eastern European countries joined the EU in May this year.

But restrictions are not expected to be lifted fully before 2011 at the earliest.

Wage dumping

One of the unions’ main concerns about the extension of the accord is that it could lead to downward pressure on salaries – otherwise known as wage dumping.

In order to combat this, the House of Representatives - like the Senate - gave its approval to the appointment of 150 inspectors to check up on Swiss companies after the measures come into force.

Economics Minister Joseph Deiss said the idea would be to have at least one inspector per canton, with the smaller cantons being able to club together and share inspectors.

The cost of funding the service is expected to be up to SFr20 million ($17.3 million), which would be shared equally between the government and the cantons.

But this is unlikely to calm opposition to the extension of the accord on the free movement of people.

Trade unions have already threatened to force a nationwide vote on the issue. They argue that the lifting of labour restrictions on EU nationals working in Switzerland has already led to downward pressure on wages.

swissinfo with agencies

Key facts

The House of Representatives voted in favour of the proposal by 129 votes to 34.
It was accepted by the Senate on December 2, with 30 votes in favour and none against.
150 inspectors would be hired to check up on companies as part of measures to combat wage dumping.
This would cost an estimated SFr20 million.

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