The government says it wants to strengthen measures to protect workers in Switzerland under its free movement of people agreement with the European Union – despite the fact the February 9 anti-immigration vote has thrown this accord’s future into doubt.This content was published on September 19, 2014 - 16:06
The rightwing Swiss People’s Party, the driving force behind the February vote, has already called the move “completely incomprehensible”.
In a statement on Friday, the economics ministry said it has launched a consultation procedure for improving the accompanying protection measures to the free movement of people accord.
One of its main aims is to increase fines for firms that commit abuses, such as contravening minimum wage or work conditions, to up to CHF30,000 ($32,000). Beforehand this had been CHF5,000. Another goal is relax the conditions for extending collective bargaining agreements.
“The protection measures have shown their worth during the last ten years. They guarantee local and foreign workers protection against wage-dumping and workplace abuses. But the efficacy of these measures can be improved,” the statement said.
Swiss voters narrowly passed a people’s initiative on February 9 calling for restrictions on immigration from the EU, of which the Swiss are not a member. It calls for a reintroduction of quotas, as well as a national preference when filling job vacancies and restrictions of immigrants’ rights to social benefits.
Critically, it also stipulates that Switzerland will have to renegotiate its bilateral accord with the EU on the free movement of people within three years or revoke it. This in turn could threaten other bilateral agreements with the EU.
The ballot box decision is causing a headache for the Swiss government, which had been against the vote’s proposals. The EU, extremely unhappy at the vote’s outcome, has already rejected Switzerland’s request to renegotiate the agreement.
On Friday the People’s Party said the government should concentrate on implementing the “people’s decision from February 9 on the control of immigration instead of keeping to socialist formulas, which destroy the flexible work market and threatens jobs with excessive red tape”.
It said it did not understand why the government was launching the consultation procedure now and said it poured doubt once again on whether the government really was serious about implementing the “against mass immigration” initiative.
The Trade Union Federation, meanwhile, welcomed the cabinet’s protection measures for Swiss workers.
“Higher penalties for companies that undercut wages will put these firms under pressure. And thanks to the development of collective bargaining agreements it will be easier for us to impose Swiss-level salaries via minimum wages,” it said in a statement on Friday.
But the government still leaves huge gaps, as it will be difficult to actually collect these fines, it added. Various cantons refuse to halt work sites or exclude firms from markets so companies at fault will be able to continue to flout the rules.
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