Swiss labour market in danger of drying up

Swiss industry is starting to feel a shortage of skilled workers Keystone

The authorities have warned that the Swiss economy is running out of labour. The government statistics office said fewer employees were entering the job market and that businesses were reporting shortages of skilled labour.

This content was published on November 15, 2000 minutes

It said both factors were signs that the labour market was drying up.

The statistics office said the number of people in employment has risen by 0.4 per cent for the second quarter of this year to 3.88 million, but said the rise was lower than in the same period last year (0.8 per cent) or in 1998 (1.8 per cent).

The statistics also show that while 27 per cent of companies were concerned about the lack of qualified employees in a survey last year, the figure has now risen to 36 per cent.

Daniel Hefti, deputy managing director of the Swiss Confederation of Employers, said the problems in the job market were not a surprise: "In the past Switzerland has relied too heavily on lower qualifications. We can't afford to do this any more."

Hefti also told swissinfo the shortage of skilled employees would mean more foreigners are needed - a sensitive political issue given that Switzerland's foreign population is approaching the 20 per cent mark.

"We're experiencing a period of strong economic growth. Whenever the growth rate is above 1.5 per cent, we have to rely on additional foreign labour," Hefti explained.

He said the authorities must also consider other measures to alleviate the problems in the labour market, such as allowing people to work beyond their retirement age and increasing the number of women in work.

Other commentators have also said the current shortages could be a real opportunity for women to enter the job market on their own terms.

But women's groups in Switzerland are sceptical. They have been arguing for years that women should be given a greater stake in the employment market and that a key to this is the availability of day care facilities for working mothers.

Sybille Burger-Bono, who is the president of the National Council Of Women's Organisations in Switzerland, said that since the first signs of the current labour shortage became apparent three years ago, only one major company has made an effort to help women.

"The company realised that if its female staff could easily return to work after maternity leave, the problem would be solved. So with our help and advice, they started programmes to get women back into work."

Burger-Bono said more companies had to realise that if they want women back, they must provide structures that enable mothers to leave their children somewhere.

by Greg Morsbach

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