A three-year pilot project to allow refugees to work on farms has been met by support from Swiss farmers. The move could help the agriculture sector cope with potential employment restrictions following a vote in February 2014 to restrict immigration.
The Swiss Farmers Association and the State Secretariat for Migration (SEM) argued in favour of employing refugees as farmhands at a press conference on Wednesday. Ten farms throughout Switzerland have been selected for a three-year test to explore the potential of this scheme. These farms are already using refugee workers or have committed to doing so this year.
The refugees will initially be paid CHF2,300 ($2,457) for the first month and by the second month this should rise to CHF3,200 – the minimum wage in this sector in most cantons. The farms will be paid a monthly fee of CHF200 for the additional paperwork involved in employing refugees and will also be eligible for an additional CHF200 if they agree to provide board and lodging.
According to the union and SEM farm work will help refugees integrate better by encouraging them to learn a national language while steering them towards financial independence. Currently only a third of all refugees are able to join the workforce in their first few years in Switzerland, they stated. They also added that farmers will benefit by being able to access workers locally instead of employing seasonal help from outside the country’s borders.
The Swiss Farmers Association pointed out that the Swiss agricultural sector employs between 25,000 to 35,000 foreign seasonal workers, mainly of Polish or Portuguese nationality. This is especially worrying for them following the vote of February 2014 in favour of imposing immigration quotas for EU workers. One of the salient points of the vote text was to rely less on foreign workers and make the most of Swiss human resources, and refugees.
“We welcome the move as a positive step, as it goes in the direction we’ve been demanding for several years,” Stefan Frey, spokesman for the Swiss Refugee Council told swissinfo.ch.
However, he hopes that the pilot project will lead to a harmonisation of regulations and incentives across the country to benefit both refugees and farmers.
“Currently each canton has its own regulations whether refugees are allowed to work or not creating 26 different systems,” he said.