Top labour official considers his legacy

Jean-Luc Nordmann will be retiring at the end of January Keystone

Jean-Luc Nordmann, the government's top labour official, is retiring after 16 years in the post – a period which has seen many changes in the job market.

This content was published on January 24, 2007 minutes

The head of labour at the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (Seco) was the driving force behind the country's technology colleges and employment agencies.

The 65-year-old's retirement at the end of this month comes as unemployment in Switzerland fell for the second year running in 2006 to 3.3 per cent.

Nordmann has even been quoted as saying the jobless rate could drop to under two per cent in the mid-term.

One of his main aims during his tenure has been to promote a flexible labour market, which he sees as the basis for a competitive Swiss economy.

He counts the creation of technical colleges – and the Berufsmatur, the qualification needed to get into these higher education establishments – as among his greatest successes.

Another area of influence was unemployment where he completely changed the style and scope of job centres. "Out of the 3,000 town job centres, we created 130 professional unemployment agencies," Nordmann told swissinfo.

Although he realises that these agencies cannot help every jobseeker, he insists that the new model – which took into account ideas from abroad - was an improvement on the old system.

A further highpoint for Nordmann was in 2004 when the population voted in favour of allowing the free movement of people with the European Union.

Economics officials were able to allay some of the country's fears over jobs with special measures drawn up to prevent wage and social dumping.

And lows

But there have also been some more difficult moments, especially as the economy has been subject to many ups and downs over the years. "The real low point was the defeat in the vote over Switzerland joining the European Economic Area on December 6, 1992," said Nordmann.

People were afraid that a flood of foreign workers would mean job losses and wage dumping, he explained. The authorities simply underestimated the extent of these fears, he added.

"We learned from this and began to work with social partners to draw up accompanying measures aimed at preventing wage and social dumping."

Another difficult time was when unemployment reached an all-time high of 5.2 per cent in 1997. "During this time we also lost a vote on financing unemployment insurance," he said.


The economist said he always tried to work with social partners, such as unions, to help people into the labour market and give them job security.

This was the case following the grounding of the national carrier Swissair in 2001 and 2002 when he set up job centres and hardship funds for Basel and Zurich airport workers who suddenly found themselves without a job.

It was from these types of tasks, Nordmann says, that he derived the most satisfaction.

Satisfaction is also a word that Nordmann associates with the meaning of work. "Work is an occupation which brings fulfilment."

"In our society people are very strongly identified and defined by their work. When asking who a person is the answer often comes in terms of their profession or work."

This has negative consequences for those without work. "This loss means insecurity and fear," he said.

swissinfo, Renat Künzi

Jean-Luc Nordmann

Nordmann was born in 1942.

1967-1971: Law clerk at a district court near Basel.

1971-1978: Head of a human resources consulting company.

1978-1991: Director of the Basel Country cantonal labour office.

1991-1998: Director of FOEDL, the former Federal Office for Industry and Labour.

1998-2007: Head of labour directorate at Seco.

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