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Trade Union chief issues warning about effects of wage dispute

The head of the Swiss Trade Union Federation, Paul Rechsteiner (pictured) has warned that the wage dispute within the construction industry is a test of credibility for the measures accompanying Switzerland's bilateral agreements with the European Union.

This content was published on March 10, 2000 - 15:10

The head of the Swiss Trade Union Federation, Paul Rechsteiner (pictured) has warned that the wage dispute within the construction industry is a test of credibility for the measures accompanying Switzerland's bilateral agreements with the European Union.

At a news conference in Berne, the Federation warned that if the wage dispute were not settled, it would lead to the largest labour conflict Switzerland had experienced in decades.

However, the Federation stressed that it was not calling into question its support of the bilateral accords, due to be put before Swiss voters on May 21.

"A condition of their approval was the adoption of accompanying measures aimed at defending salaries and working conditions," said Rechsteiner, the Federation president and a Social Democrat member of parliament.

In January, industry employers turned down a compromise salary deal worked out after months of painstaking negotiations with the unions. This means there will be no collective contract in an industry with more than 100,000 workers.

The unions have said that the accompanying measures to the bilateral accords represent "an important modernisation of labour law" but they would lose some of their effects without a collective contract in force.

"Before the Swiss even vote on the issue, this conflict has become the first decisive test to measure the credibility of the measures accompanying the bilateral accords," said Rechsteiner.

He added that if the "supporters of reason" among construction industry employers could not impose their views on others, Switzerland would have its most serious labour conflict for decades.

The Federation has said that if necessary it will call on other unions to support the Industry and Construction Union.

In the last serious Swiss construction industry dispute in May 1947, some 12,000 construction workers took to the streets of Zurich to protest against the wage policies of their employers and a strike was only narrowly avoided.

swissinfo with agencies

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